A photographer’s look inside the bedrooms of Vancouver’s millennials

Wendel Genosa placed an ad on Craigslist in 2015, asking people between 18 and 25 years of age if they would be interested in allowing a stranger to step inside their bedroom and photograph them in their most private of spaces.

Whether they were living in parents’ basements, dorm rooms or shared living spaces, documenting millennials in their created sanctuaries in and around Metro Vancouver was a way, Genosa said, to step outside her comfort zone and glimpse how her generation was surviving.

“It becomes a visual census,” said the 25-year-old.

“Every little thing in these images, they are all cultural signifiers as to what time they are living in.”

Bernard, 21. Photo taken in a loft in the family’s Richmond, B.C., home in 2014. ‘Fascinating, because you see that his closet is open for display,’ Genosa says. ‘He has an almost model-like pose, situating himself in the centre of the frame, whereas most people were comfortable sitting on a bed, or leaning against a wall.’ (Wendel Genosa)

The work Bedroom Biographies compiles 39 of those images, which began as a project for Genosa’s final year studying photography at Emily Carr University.

Starting with the bedrooms of her friends, and friends of friends, Genosa wanted to dig deeper and move from people she knew to strangers — so, up went the ad on Craigslist.

Tiffany, 23. Photo taken in 2015 in the bedroom of the family’s Richmond, B.C., home. ‘A really nice part about being able to photograph close friends is that I have the ability to call them randomly, show up to their place spontaneously and capture them in their least prepared state.’ (Wendel Genosa)

Several people reached out, open to sharing their space — and, by extension, their lives — through a photographer’s lens. 

They were told in advance not to tidy or re-arrange anything in their rooms. And even though she didn’t know what to expect, Genosa said the response surprised her.

Ananda, 25. Photo taken in her own one-bedroom Vancouver, B.C., suite in 2019. ‘Knowing this individual’s history and lack of personal space growing up, it’s a photo that I can relate to on a personal scale.’ (Wendel Genosa)

“I definitely see it as voyeuristic,” she said.

“Upon first meeting with some of these people, you’d think it would be awkward. But because you are in such an intimate space, it allows them to be more vulnerable, and for yourself to be more vulnerable.”

Mark, 20. Photo taken in shared bedroom of family home in IloIlo, Philipines in 2018. ‘Looking beyond the frame of this photo is essential. The corner of another bed appears in the right-hand corner, the blocked door of the bed, the active fan in the corner — all of these minute details stir questions. “Why is there another bed in the frame? Who is he sharing a room with?”‘ (Wendel Genosa)

Genosa says people will have their own assumptions and perceptions of the rooms and the people in them, but will hopefully relate and see themselves in “the little fragments of these pictures.”

Wendel Genosa, 24. Self-portrait in her bedroom in the family’s home in Richmond, B.C., in 2018. ‘This portrait holds a lot of meaning to me as it was my last bedroom in my old family home before I moved out independently.’ (Wendel Genosa)

The compilation is now an e-book. In its foreward, Genosa writes that the “almost adults” she documents are at an awkward stage, struggling with their identities and feeling pressure from parents, friends and the media to be a certain way — and their bedrooms are an escape from the noise of the outside world.

“Between adolescence and adulthood, between the family home and the outside world — the correlation between self and space is integral at this age,” she writes.

Kiely, 21. Photo taken in a dorm at UBC in 2015. ‘This photo has “university student” written all over it. From the sweatshirt, twin bed, bike placed in awkward spaces and taped posters, to dorm buildings seen through the windows, this photograph totally embodies student life at UBC.’ (Wendy Genosa)

Jaclyn, 25. Photo taken in a studio suite Richmond, B.C., in 2015. ‘I caught Jaclyn in her pyjamas, in the midst of eating an afternoon snack on her bed. It’s become an automatic response to smile when a camera is directed toward someone, but when viewing people in their created sanctuaries, I wanted their expressions to be raw, honest.’ (Wendel Genosa)

Genosa’s plan is to expand Bedroom Biographies “on a global scale,” comparing B.C.’s millennials with other youth cultures and their spaces around the world.

“I started the project when I was 21, so the project grows with me, [along with] my understanding of what becoming an adult is.”