Thirty-five black-and-white photographs ring the exhibition space at TSETSE Gallery on Empire Street in downtown Providence. Here a man with a bushy goatee sitting on a motorcycle, there a woman covering her face with her hair.
BECKY “It’s just the wrong time,” her dad says.
Below most of the pictures: a pair of headphones, a play button, and intimate entrée to the lives of the photographed.
All of the subjects, whose ages ranged from 12 to 100 at the time of the pictures and recordings, share one wrenching, fraught experience: all have been affected, in some way, by teenage parenthood.
It is an issue often reduced to a simple moral judgment: an indictment of individual character or of the broader culture. But teenage pregnancy is, of course, far more complicated — and far more human — than that.
And the power of the traveling "Children of Children" exhibit, the work of San Antonio artist Michael Nye, is in the honesty and fullness of its portraits. These are complete people. They are not judged, but their hardship is addressed head on.
Terry says he was "born into controversy" in north Georgia in 1955. His town traditionally lavished gifts and special attention on the first child born every year. But Terry was black and, that year, the rules changed.
In high school, Terry met Maria. It was quarterback and cheerleader. One day she approached with a serious look on her face. She was pregnant. "I remember the fear, that's it," says Terry, a vice president of operations at a San Antonio museum. "That's the one thing that I'll never forget: just fear."
There was no lecture at home. His father just asked what he'd do. "I don't know," he said. What followed was extended denial. Terry avoided Maria — his lone, great regret in life.
When he grew older and married and had children, his perspective changed. He flew to Atlanta and told his son to ask whatever he liked. The young man asked why he had gone so long between visits, if he was ashamed of his son, if he loved him.
Willie, an old black woman of the South, wears a flowered blouse and a dark hat with a felt flower in her photograph. She holds her big left hand up to her chin. Her grandparents were slaves. When she got pregnant, her father was irate.
"I just felt shame all kinds of ways," she says.
He sent her away for three months. When she came back, she pledged to "make a lady of myself." But when Willie gave birth to her son, her parents took the boy and sent her away.
She felt hurt, she says. Mistreated. Her father later apologized to her. Her parents had no more children at home, he explained. They felt lonesome. She forgave. "We came to love each other harder and harder," Willie says.
In church, with her husband, she says, she likes to sing a certain gospel song: "I woke up this morning with my mind / stayed on Jesus."
The "Children of Children" exhibit, brought to town by the YWCA of Northern Rhode Island, marks the launch of a new effort by the non-profit Rhode Island Alliance to reduce teen pregnancy in the state and support young families.