Melissa Ann Pinney is an American photographer best known for her closely-observed studies of the social lives and emerging identities of American girls and women. Pinney’s photographs have won the photographer numerous fellowships and awards, and found their way into the collections of the major museums in the US and abroad. Pinney lives in Evanston, Illinois.
Pinney’s work first garnered attention when it was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s major 1991 exhibition, Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort. Her evocative and sharply attentive photographs of the stages of life in American women earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1999, enabling her to develop the work that resulted in her first major monograph, Regarding Emma: Photographs of American Women and Girls (2003). At the core of that work lay a series of photographs of Pinney’s daughter as she moved from birth to the verge of adolescence; the project swirled out from there, through friends and classmates, past their families, neighborhoods, social rituals and community lives, to develop a richly nuanced study of emerging female identity, its promises and perils.
Since that time, Pinney's second monograph, Girl Ascending (2010) has continued to follow those narratives, and the themes contained within them. The work focuses on a touchstone moment in the lives of American girls and women: their emergence from protected youth to public maturity. In these pictures, by turns hauntingly evocative and closely focused, Pinney portrays the uneasiness of that emergence—in the struggle to fit ideal dresses to real bodies, proper etiquette to ebullient energies and appetites, natural companionship to formal conversation—as the girls of a certain class prepare themselves for the rest of their lives. “The strength of Pinney’s work has always lain in her ability to sympathetically inhabit the lives of her subjects, while understanding their place in the larger ebb and flow of social life around them,” eminent photographic and cultural historian Peter Bacon Hales has written. “The pictures are so often gorgeous in their manner, and heartbreaking in their implications; rarely do we see photographs that can imply so much without intruding or announcing their intentions.”
Pinney's upcoming book, TWO, is a provocative, nuanced visual investigation of the complex, often enigmatic relationship between two beings. It includes short essays by ten distinguished authors on the idea and nature of two. Ann Patchett edited and wrote the introduction.
Pinney’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; George Eastman House, Rochester; and the J.Paul Getty Museum, L.A., among others.