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In a small, dark room with just one light and a black backdrop, I documented members of the senior class at an elite private high school. It was mid-February, halfway to graduation, and, for most students, future plans and college admissions were still uncertain. As senior year is a time of critical decisions and transitions, I wanted to capture the seniors quietly reflecting. I asked each to bring his or her college admission essay.


The essays were about triumph and failure and overcoming difficult odds. There were stories about strict immigrant parents, injecting growth hormones, cancer, disparaging grandparents, and teaching the disabled. The content was powerful and, at times, hard to hear. The essays had been written months before, and most of the students hadn’t revisited the words since; many had never heard them read aloud. I read the essays as I took the photos. The resulting images are of student hearing their own words.

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