Faculty, Alum on Her Full Circle Experience at Columbia College Chicago
Melissa Ann Pinney’s path into fine art photography started at a commercial studio job in the 1970s. The job led her to Columbia College Chicago where she was welcomed into a community of creatives setting her on the path that would become her life’s work. She would eventually end up teaching photography at Columbia in 1985 and continues to work at the college today. Recently named the Diane Dammeyer Fellow at the college, she says the fellowship has brought her back to Columbia full circle.
What do you enjoy most about working at Columbia?
I love working with students and among colleagues so engaged by and passionate about photography.
What is the focus of your artistry?
Emerging identity in women and girls was the subject of my first two books, Regarding Emma: Photographs of American Women & Girls, and Girl Ascending. Now I’m photographing young people in public schools—my focus has always been people and their relationships to one another.
What are/have been some of your favorite projects and why?
So many projects to consider! My current project is usually my favorite. Going back a few years, I’m proud of my work for CPS Lives, a project which got me started photographing in the public schools.
I’ve always loved the water and my life has revolved around sports like swimming and windsurfing. Taking photographs of Lake Michigan and the beaches where we windsurf in Maui combines two things I’m most passionate about.
How do you feel about having been chosen as the Diane Dammeyer Fellow?
It’s an incredible honor to be chosen as the Diane Dammeyer Fellow! I feel grateful for the support of the Fellowship and Columbia and the energy it brings to my project. Now, decades of photography projects after starting at Columbia, the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship brings me back full circle.
What are your plans for your time as a Diane Dammeyer Fellow?
I am photographing student life at the Ogden International Schools of Chicago and Nicholas Senn High School. These children have grown up with an awareness of racial segregation and inequity in our city’s schools. They are heirs to the #MeToo movement and comfortable with gender fluidity. One of the most politically active and informed youth generations in many decades, these students want to be change agents. That’s the big picture. In the small but significant moments depicted in my images I see evidence of a future that wants to emerge if only we will support it. My goal is to create an intimate portrayal of this on-going historic moment and to feature an image-making project with the students in self-representation to culminate in an exhibition inside the schools.