In 1985, the photographer Karen Marshall was introduced to Molly Brover, a 16-year-old from the Upper West Side, when she was aged 25. Straight away, Marshall started spending time with Molly and her friends, documenting the bonding and the emotional dynamics of teenage female friendship.
Ten months later, Molly died in a tragic car accident, but Marshall kept going with the project, who says, “I realised that she would remain 17 and that the rest of the girls would become women”. Her photo book Between Girls was published this October, and the project comprises of past and present images, an audio recording from 1990, and a video of the women in 2008.

The compilation of image and sound holds a real tangible story of growing up and becoming independent women, with all the ups and downs life throws at us on this journey. It's all represented in these intimate images — showing evolution, joy, hope, ambition — from the closest point of view, from the inside.
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First, I’d like to know how you would describe yourself not only as a person but also as a photographer. When and why did you decide to become one?
I have always been a creative person. My mother was involved with the theatre when I was growing up and so the performing arts were a part of my life from the beginning. At age 13 I discovered photography and I knew that [was and] is what I wanted to do and I have been a photographer ever since.
You said you started the Between Girls project because you were curious to know what teenage girls were like when you were in your twenties, but you would have been one just a few years earlier too. Did you really believe many things could have changed?
I came of age during the women’s movement in the US in the 1970s. Women young and old were standing up for themselves and feeling empowered. It was not just about rights in the workplace but being independent and having a voice. By 1985 people were not focused on the ‘women’s movement’ anymore. I was curious what girls were thinking then and if their perspective was different to mine. But I also assumed that coming of age is something that in many ways looks the same no matter what year it is.
What did you really want to immortalise, and why did you choose Molly and her mates over all the teenagers living in the Upper West Side during the eighties to achieve it? Why not focus on another group of friends from New York?
I wanted to look at universal rituals of coming of age and was curious if girls in the 1980s felt a certain freedom as a result of the cultural changes of the cultural empowerment of women the decade before… But mostly I wanted to explore the psychological space that women share with one another and specifically during the teenage years.
I asked people I knew if they knew teenagers I could photograph. I photographed a few different girls that I ended up not connecting to, but when I met Molly and her friends it was a natural and mutual connection, and they welcomed me into their world.
Why did you focus on girls over boys?
I was interested in the unique relationships that women share with one another that is universal. Also, in the 1980s there was a lack of work about women coming of age.
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Blake with her mother, Jen and friends, 1997 © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'
Molly passed away just a few months after the beginning of your project, but, after that, you kept working on it for no less than 30 years. What was the motivation to carry on with the project?
Molly died 10 months into the project. I realised that she would remain 17 and that the rest of the girls would become women. In a way, part of their lives became frozen with the loss of Molly and their lives were changed forever. I have no way of knowing if I would have continued to photograph them regardless of Molly’s loss. Emblematic relationships are often not restricted by time passing.
Were you aware this project would take three decades? Was your mind clear about where the project was going from the beginning until the end of it or the topic may have evolved?
I had no idea how long I would work on this when I began. I may have wound it down after a year and or may have waited for them to graduate from high school…or as I said I have no way of knowing if I would have continued regardless of Molly passing. I also had no way of knowing that it would go on for three decades until it did.
Did it ever cross your mind to change subject after this devastating situation?
This project was not initially about loss and obviously that is what became its central theme. Molly’s death made me understand the fragility of life, and I also felt that I wanted to make sure that this work resolved itself and was shared with the world because of Molly.
Do you reckon the project was a reason to keep the girls together for so many years?
I definitely have been somewhat of a go between for the women over the year. A few of them have remained friends regardless of this project or me, but I have kept them connected as well.
What was your relationship with them like? Did it ever feel uncomfortable for any of you to work on this together since you were different ages, especially due to them still being so young?
I always felt completely connected to them. When I first met the girls I was like an older sister or mentor… later, when the age difference didn’t mean much, we have simply had ongoing relationships.
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Jen, Blake and Rachel (1985-1986) © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'
You probably wanted to focus on getting inside the story you were telling rather than being technical, however, do you think that could risk achieving a less aesthetic result? Was this method an opportunity to keep close to the characters?
The camera is a tool, and a skilled photographer and documentarian understands how to balance aesthetic and content to make the best possible result. I had very specific tools I used from the beginning, from the camera, lens and flash choice to the type of film developer and the photographic paper I used. When I shifted and expanded tools… as in created audio, video, designed a channelled video, worked with ephemera, it was all intentional. Tools and formats and ideas are all woven together and there is no separating them. The book itself is intentional and is a tool for bringing the viewer inside the story. There is no way of separating tools from the meaning behind the work or the ongoing intention.
Actually, you are not only launching a book, Between Girls ended up as a set including a recording of the friends from 1990 and a video showing interviews with some women in 2008. What led you to add these formats to your final project?
I felt that it was important to hear their voices. They are very articulate and what they have to say is part of the universality of women’s friendships. I used all of this various media in gallery installations in the past. Each piece of technology has a reason. It is very important that this is a book that you hold in your hands and love that technology allows sharing other media via QR codes.
What is relatable about the evolution of all these girls shaping her own identities as women today through so many years? And, also, how did you decide when to end this observation? Has the Covid-19 situation had anything to do with the decision?
I believe that the way the book is designed allows for the viewer to understand the progression of time. When I visited and photographed the women within a 10-day time period in 2015, it marked 30 years of documentation. That felt like enough, a natural completion. They were all on the other side of their 40s, and it seemed clear that even if their lives shift and change in the years to come, that the basic ideas of who they are and the relationship to their girlfriends is not going to shift all that much more. They are full-grown women in their middle age, and it felt like the perfect time to finish. It was coincidental that when the design of the book was complete, and it was time to find a publisher, COVID hit. Somehow it makes sense that a project such like this one, that explores our bonds with one another, get shared with the world now. Our connections to one another could not be more important and appreciated than at a time like this, when we are slowly emerging from a pandemic.
In almost 40 years, society has exponentially evolved, mainly due to technology. Which kind of public are you trying to reach with this latest work, young girls living their teenage years who may struggle to relate themselves to the activities shown in your shots or nostalgic grown-up women who could identify themselves with those situations and kinds of friendships?
I have always felt that this project is for people of all ages. Teenagers from many cultures relate to this work because they see girls from a different time period (and sometimes a different part of the world) enact the same rituals they are. For older women, they relate because they understand what it means to have emblematic relationships that are not dictated by time or circumstance and that even if they are no longer close to the women they shared their youth with, there is a bond that will be there for a lifetime.
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Jen and Molly 1985 © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'
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Jen, Blake, Piper and Leslie © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'
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Molly and Zoe, 1985 © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'
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Molly, Leslie and Jen © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'
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Piper, Leslie, Jonah, Jen and Alex © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'
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Prom pictures, 1987 © Karen Marshall from 'Between Girls'