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Skyview High School is a surprisingly diverse place full of smart, talented, conscientious young adults. Three student photographers wanted the whole world to know it.
“Skyview is really an incredible place. We wanted to take what’s inside Skyview and put it on the outside of Skyview,” said Shelby Sherman.
Rubyna Ali put it bluntly: Skyview’s reputation is “mostly upper middle class and mostly Caucasian. But that’s not true. We wanted to show accurately what the inside of Skyview is really like. We are reclaiming the image and showing the community what amazing and diverse people there are here, and how much Skyview is driving the community forward.”
For the next few weeks, you won’t be able to miss those amazing and diverse people as you drive by the front of the school on Northwest 139th Street. Forty of their jumbo-sized faces have been displayed on the building’s exterior wall in all their characteristic reality: smiling, sighing, sneering, gesticulating, contemplating, cracking up. Living.
“How do you see yourself? What is your true character?” is what the photo subjects were asked as dozens of portraits — as many as 100 in some cases — got snapped.
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For Sherman, Ali and Marta Alcazar, the effort was a senior project as well as a labor of love. It’s also our own local piece of a participatory, global art project called Inside Out. Inside Out began in and around Paris in the wake of riots that rocked the suburban housing projects there in 2005; a famed photographer who goes only by “JR” started posting huge portraits of real people — the underrepresented and unemployed, the misunderstood and stereotyped — all over the city.
The world responded in a big way. What started out as an illegal guerrilla tactic aimed at shoving public art in people’s faces wound up getting the blessing of local authorities and spreading across the globe. According to its website, 200,000 people in at least 112 nations and territories have participated so far. Many of them are in places where displaying public art makes a radical and even dangerous statement about empowering the people. Others are trying to bring awareness and dignity to groups who feel unnoticed or disenfranchised — sexual and racial minorities, the disabled and mentally ill, poor farmers in undeveloped places, the homeless.
Inside Out now is a nonprofit with an office in New York City, Skyview photography teacher Jenna Biggs said, and that’s where the three photographers she hand-picked for this special effort sent their photos when all were done — along with a $500 donation that came from the Vancouver Public Schools Foundation. The Inside Out office printed the portraits on durable, biodegradable paper and sent them back. They were affixed to the side of the school with an organic wheat paste; they’ll likely be pressure-washed off the wall sometime after graduation on June 12.
“I only regret that we couldn’t take hundreds more and really fit the mission,” Biggs said.
But Alcazar, Ali and Sherman took that mission seriously: They reached out to Skyview’s popular and obscure, loud and quiet, smiling and serious. “We lived in the photo studio since February,” said Ali. They also made presentations to the school district foundation and to various student groups.
Now that it’s all done, all three girls are facing the future. Alcazar, an exchange student, goes back to Spain for one more year of public school. Ali and Sherman are both graduating. All three intend to pursue photography as a sideline while building careers in education (Sherman), social justice and human rights (Ali) and architecture (Alcazar).
Meanwhile, Biggs said the project will show up shortly on the Inside Out website, which tracks them all, worldwide: www.insideoutproject.net/en.
“To see you young ladies work for two years to execute a vision like this — it is humbling and inspiring,” Skyview principal Kym Tyleyn-Carlson said while admiring the outdoor portrait gallery. “I hope you come away knowing, to execute big dreams you have to take many small steps.”