Read Review: Rebel Youth by Karlheinz Weinberger

By Christina Sterbenz

In Rebel Youth, Karlheinz Weinberger captures the defiant glamour of Swiss teenagers equally obsessed with denim and Elvis. The photography book, published after Weinberger’s death in 2006, features mostly black and white prints. Weinberger’s male subjects do more than camp, smoke cigarettes, and ogle women with absurdly large hair; they express their distaste with the usual world using provocative handmade fashion and refusing to conform.

With smoldering eyes, man-cleavage, and cocked heads, the models’ reckless attitudes mirror that of James Dean. The outdoor shots carry realistic compositions with surreal auras, thanks in part to the natural lighting. The pictures conveyed such rebellion that I felt a desire for the subjects’ lifestyle. Select posed studio shots show close-up views of intricate accessories, such as zippers kept closed by safety pins or chain laces.

The photographs focus heavily on one article of clothing: the jean jacket. The individuals in Weinberger’s portraits wear studded, fringed, and ferocious animal-adorned jackets proudly. The collection features candid group shots, hinting at the camaraderie of the chaotic miscreants. Weinberger sometimes blurs the group, highlighting an individual in the foreground. The book also showcases the infrequent stopped or blurred action shot of wrestling, dancing, or other outlandish behaviors.

Weinberger’s photographs have universal appeal: fashion, history, and pop culture fuse together in the skillful images. The fierce uniqueness of his rebels leave a much more profound impact than I expected from two dimensions. I wonder how one says, “Stay golden, Ponyboy” in German.