Q&A: Melissa Ann Pinney — Chicago Public Schools


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? It’s more like a resolution than a philosophy– I’ve been trying to withhold judgement of others for just a bit longer. I can be quick to judge and am often wrong in my judgements. What will baffle future generations about our day and age?  That we did nothing to stop the catastrophe of climate change. Are you aware of any conspiracies? I think we’re all aware now of the vast conspiracy of silence and protection among sexual predators in the church, the entertainment world, sports, academia, and the workplace. Now we can add the Boys Scouts to the list. Also, see previous answer about climate change. This is not a cheery interview so far. What is it that interests you about photography? For me, making photographs requires being fully present to the world around me and offers opportunities in that moment to connect deeply with whomever or whatever I’m seeing. What is the worst thing about city life? The traffic! What part of the planet would you like to explore? Icebergs in the Arctic. My desire is based solely on Lynn Davis’s haunting photographs and the scenes from the Titanic movie when people are floating in the water.

What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? Mind reading. Or are we already there? If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? Joan of Arc– she was a total badass. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. I’m passing on this one. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? My photographer’s regrets have more to do with the pictures I didn’t have the nerve to go after. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Singer, beach bum, reading tutor for small children, ski patrol. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. I couldn’t possibly name just one photo and my choice changes all the time. It’s the one that inspires me to make better pictures. How often do you take other people’s advice? Unsolicited advice, never, out of stubbornness. Advice I seek, probably most of the time. Describe a personal hell. Having my way obstructed by forces I can’t control. Which living person do you most admire? Any woman who speaks up or out against sexual violence. On what occasion do you lie? Only when necessary.

What is the best way to educate yourself? By following the pull of your obsessions, your passions, or even just your interests. What is the next book you want to read? Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt. Ultimate camera? It’s imaginary… A digital Leica with auto-focus and a 4×5 aspect ratio. Most used camera? Nikon D850, because even though it’s a DLSR I can set the aspect ratio to 4×5. What object do you want? I can’t think of one. What object do you need? Nothing at the moment. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Yes! Describe a cheap thrill. Body surfing. Pick a historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. I would like to go back in time to photograph the great forests that covered this country before European settlers and Dutch Elm disease. Are impulses more important than consequences? Yes, when what you imagine the consequences will be keep you from taking risks. Which talent would you most like to have? I’d like to be a rock & roll singer in a band. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? Going to the gym, printing for a mural proposal, then going to a benefit auction for the Museum of Contemporary Photography this evening, photographing in a Chicago public high school tomorrow.

My photographs bear witness to inner city public schools, providing a vision of the students’ fierce & fragile world when they are most free to be together and to be themselves, informed by moments of spontaneous play, self-presentation and gesture.

I never know what the children will do next; their beauty, their conflicts, their compassion are unrehearsed. This project focuses on students during unstructured time in several culturally and economically diverse public schools. Bell Elementary School serves neighborhood, deaf and gifted children. I’ve also chronicled the historic and hopeful merger of Jenner Academy, a predominately black school, and Ogden Elementary, a school with a large white population. Students from Ogden International Schools High School are also represented.

The students become active participants in the art-making, not by posing but by inviting me into their world. I am after the mystery and surprise of each moment. Sometimes a student looks directly into the camera as if to ask: Do you see me? Do you really see me?

Melissa Ann Pinney is a fine art photographer based in Evanston, Illinois. Her photographs are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the J.Paul Getty Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Art, and many others.

Monographs: Regarding Emma (2003) Girl Ascending(2010) and TWO (2015) with Ann Patchett.
Melissa Ann Pinney is represented by Schneider Gallery, Chicago and Alan Klotz Gallery, New York.

To see more of Melissa Ann Pinney’s work visit — Website / Instagram.