Reed Young’s photography career has taken him from a sumo wrestler’s home in Tokyo to the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic to the halls of Fabrica, the Benetton-owned creative lab for young talent in Treviso, Italy. But he probably wouldn’t have gotten to any of those places if he hadn’t faked his way into art school. At 17 and a middling student at a Minneapolis senior high, Young, now 27, borrowed a photography portfolio from a friend and was accepted into his hometown’s prestigious Perpich Center for Arts Education on its merits. “When I arrived, I think they found it a bit strange that I didn’t know the difference between an aperture and a shutter speed,” he says.
In the 10 years since, Young has built a remarkable portfolio of what he calls “environmental portraits.” “I tend to focus on strangers and common people,” he explains. “I wouldn’t call what I do reportage, but some of my stories are socially driven. I set up the photos, and I usually interview the subjects afterwards.” It’s an on-the-fly journalistic style he learned at Fabrica, where a few years ago he was offered a yearlong scholarship for the center’s under-25 artists’ program. One of his first assignments was as a kind of proto-Sartorialist for an Italian women’s magazine, photographing “fancy young people” on the streets. “Professionally, it wasn’t the greatest job,” he says, but while doing it he began stopping other subjects as well, in effect learning his craft on the sidewalks of Italy.
As one of only two photographers at Fabrica, Young also had the opportunity to work for Benetton’s legendary Colors magazine. “The magazine was going through all sorts of changes. They’d gotten rid of the staff, and Enrico Bossan, who was head of the photography department, had taken over as editor. They had just started using people from Fabrica,” Young says. Young’s Vörland series, which we’re showing in part here, is from a special 2007 issue Colors produced on the theme of global warming, which was to be presented at Milan’s Triennale museum during an event featuring Al Gore. Vörland is the name of a fictional Swedish town, and the entire issue takes place 50 years in the future. “The idea was that global warming had gotten so bad that a formerly inhospitable Swedish town had become a beachy tourist destination,” says Young. On a shoestring budget, the photographer and his Fabrica colleagues created an alternate universe. “It was like an advertising project, in that every element was art directed by Fabrica students — set building, prop stylists, fashion designers, whatever.” We asked Young to offer us a glimpse into what went on behind the scenes.