For our latest issue, photographer Pieter Hugo sought to answer two questions: what we are and why we exist. Through his lens, there’s perhaps no better generation who exemplifies this than today’s youth—those who are redefining what it means to be a young person with values and whose future depends on the welfare of the planet they’re set to inherit.

When asked to choose an object for a curatorial project, a friend of mine chose a Xanax pill, saying that it defined youth: anxiety and panic. It’s there, this behemoth. I think about young people not as afflicted, compromised, or crazed, but as the ones who change the rule book. What we are. Why we exist. What it is to burst out of your body—because nothing stays the same. There is a wildness there. When I was a teenager, I wanted to destroy everything around me. That’s me. Kids are different. Types are dangerous.


With these photographs, I chose to set young men and women in natural settings, turn Xanax into Xanadu. Nature’s rot is not civilizational rot. Just because nothing is pretty—in the end—doesn’t mean we can’t respect the beauty and mess of youth. The fact is that youth is capitalism’s elixir. The irony is that capitalism hates youth as much as it exploits it. Young people know this. They feel fucked over all the time, and they are justified in this feeling. By placing young men and women in nature, away from the rules and regulations of society, I wanted to take them to the freedom they never get, a place where Robin Hood and the gypsies live. A place where they are not wired to tech, reduced to baneful though necessary commodities, shit for cool pictures. They are not just a class that advertising exploits. Dumbing it down as naïve idealism or wokeness is missing the boat. They are essential to human evolution.

This article appears in Volume 03: Flourish/Collapse of Atmos.

Shop Atmos Volume 03: Flourish/Collapse

Nature is a delicate balance of expansion and collapse, flourish and famine, growth and decay. Have human beings permanently disrupted this cycle, throwing the wheel off its axis, or are we just paving way for the next species to thrive? Is it still possible for us to return to a point of flourishing without collapse? Explore these questions with the Extinction Rebellion, the women warriors of the Amazon, and more of our heroes on the frontlines of conservation. Featuring contributions from Sylvia Earle, Elizabeth L. Cline, Ben Toms, Sam Rock, Stefanie Moshammer, Liliana Merizalde, Kristin-Lee Moolman, Gareth McConnell, Pieter Hugo, Simon Armitage, and more.

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