The title “The Milky Way” comes from a Greek myth about the creation of the galaxy. In the myth, the collection of stars forms as a result of the goddess Hera breastfeeding the infant Heracles.

“The Milky Way” is about the special mood that springs from a certain time in life: the period between being a child and an adult. During this period of adolescence, we take perhaps the greatest step away from the safety of our parents’ chests. It’s a time when we long for life and independence—a time full of dreams, expectations, and a feeling that life is great, and yet one’s entire life can change in a single evening with a single glance. It is a time of excitement over what might happen and all the experiences that come along the way. Experiences are a measurement of how far you have come; they are also something to collect and to compare with others.

The series depicts how girls and boys aged 12-16 approach each other, form groups, and seek their identities. During this phase of life, their bodies are changing and take on a direction of their own. These bodily changes affect their entire personality. It is also a time filled with abrupt shifts between euphoric joy and utter hopelessness. Emotions are boiling under the surface, but it’s important to appear cool and suppress feelings of insecurity, confusion, excitement and longing. Sometimes they can’t be hidden, thus creating odd expressions and behaviors. Most often the series is about finding a community, a place to belong to.

The story really has no beginning or end: it goes in loops. Despite the portraits presented here, it is not, in fact, about these young people, but rather a phase—an age—that everyone must go through. It reminds us adults of a crucial time in our lives that we can never get back.

As a photographer, I look for those strong emotions that I felt during that age all the time. Not always because I want to take a picture, but rather because I want to get to know them. In “The Milky Way” I focused on body movements and how to portray the body that is so particular to that time. Their bodies say a lot about those feelings of uncertainty, confusion, excitement and longing.

—Hannah Modigh

Editors’ note: A photo from Modigh’s project “Hillbilly Heroin, Honey” was a single-image winner in last year’s Magnum Awards. The 2017 Magnum Photography Awards are now open for entries—submit your work for a chance to be recognized by leaders in the photographic community from National Geographic, Aperture, Magnum, LensCulture, and more. You can also check out the jury and prizes for the Magnum Awards 2017 on its Call for Entries page.