They’re not necessarily the most popular kids, or the most athletic or the highest achievers. But they’re uniquely qualified to represent Vancouver Public Schools’ largest high school, where the motto is that “Skyview stands as one.”
Forty portraits hang on the side of the building, along NW 139th Street. The 5-by-3 black-and-white photos of students are a declaration of strength and unity. A clear image emerging from a blur of preconceptions, partial truths, misinformation and rumors that surround any large school. A universal attempt to control one’s own narrative.
This story begins a long way from Vancouver, however. In 2011, a French artist known simply as JR created an international participatory art project that uses portrait photos as a way to convey identity and community. The series is called Inside Out.
The work spread globally in subsequent years. According to the Inside Out organization, some 200,000 people from more than 112 countries and territories have participated, telling stories about themselves and their neighbors. But Inside Out hadn’t hit Vancouver—until now.
“[Skyview photography teacher Jenna] Biggs introduced us to the project and asked if we thought something like that could happen here. We were like, ‘That would be the coolest thing ever!’” said senior Shelby Sherman.
Vancouver Inside Out was a year and a half in the making. Sherman, Rubyna Ali and Marta Alcazar spent months identifying and vetting classmates. Photography and editing required another two months of their time and efforts, often outside of school hours. Senior Kyle Quintanilla provided art direction.
Thanks to a grant from the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools, the resulting portraits of students’ signature expressions were printed by Inside Out on biodegradable paper. Later, the team behind Vancouver Inside Out adhered the photos to the building with a non-damaging organic paste of water, sugar and flour.
The installation stretched over three days. “It’s been an extraordinary project and opportunity for kids to learn about large-scale installations,” said Biggs, a talented photographer herself.
It’s also an opportunity to offer a rebuke to a media-fueled culture that magnifies the negative in any school and sometimes allows it to eclipse the everyday, non-headline-worthy things. The good things that deserve prominence.
“When the whole school’s reputation is misinterpreted, that’s unfair to the people who are changing not only their community in the school, but also the broader community and potentially changing the world,” said Ali. “We have some passionate, talented, devoted individuals here.”
Vancouver Inside Out will be on display through the end of June 2015. Skyview High School is located at 1300 NW 139th St., Vancouver, WA 98685.