Melissa Ann Pinney: In Their Own Light
Melissa Ann Pinney’s book of light-filled photographs from Chicago Public Schools celebrates adolescents within the worlds of middle and high school. Pinney finds exquisite patterns in the clamorous interactions in hallways and playgrounds. Like flocks of lively birds, she pictures the students moving in unison, playing, preening, pairing up, splitting off. Having gained their trust over her five-year project, the students allow her into their worlds, to observe and record the rituals of their school lives. Her work never loses sight of the individuality of her subjects. In tender portraits, Pinney finds the delicate light of windows, doors and stairwells to frame quiet moments — allowing us to pause and witness the transitions of adolescence.
In Their Own Light: Photographs from Chicago Public Schools is co-published by Skylark Editions and CPS Lives. The 7.5 x 9 inch book brings an intimate scale to the project. A gatefold cover introduces us to the blending and emerging of selfhood, as middle school shifts into high school. The sequencing foregrounds Pinney’s strong compositional rhythms and painterly use of light, imbuing her young subjects with solemnity. The architecture of the school environments and the cadence of school activities provide a backdrop for the unfolding identities and alliances of this tender age.
Pinney began the project under the auspices of CPS Lives, a project that pairs artists with Chicago Public Schools to share stories of the public school system. She writes movingly in her afterword about her artist residency in a largely White elementary school, followed by residencies in several mostly Black and Latinx high schools. When she began this work in 2018, she had no idea of what was to come. The project evolved and shifted as Pinney found opportunities to deepen connections with students. Her images took on the important function of bearing witness, providing connection and healing, through a global pandemic, escalating racial and gender inequities and continuing gun violence. The book is dedicated to the memory of 8 students killed by gun violence, who she had come to know during the project.
From Pinney’s afterword: “The longer I do this work the more rewarding it has become for me personally as well as a photographer. One of the most unexpected gifts is realizing how much the students value the photographs. As Ogden student, Khov’ya, said, “I’m really happy you took those pictures. They might have seemed like regular days, but it’s good to look back on those moments…little memories and little moments. We just knew that you were always here, taking pictures.”
Melissa Ann Pinney is the author of Emma: Photographs of American Women & Girls (2003), Girl Ascending (2010) and TWO (2015). She has been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for Photography. Pinney’s photographs are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan, Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco MOMA, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.
In Their Own Light: Photographs from Chicago Public Schools is available through Skylark Editions, in a first edition of 400, 124 pages with 74 plates.
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