For six months of the 2012/2013 school year, photographer Aaron Wojack captured a small slice of the New York City high school experience in a series called “Blowing Minds”. The caps, gowns, bravado and angst we expect from high school students are all present in his subjects, but the setting is institutional, impersonal and cramped. Shot in an office building turned high school in lower Manhattan that was used as a “makeshift morgue” during 9/11, there’s a quiet weightiness running through the series.
From cafeteria workers to students, Wojack photographs his subjects with dignity and respect. He saves his lens’s critical mode for the caged windows, the comically makeshift gym, and the piles of Department of Education junk. Yet even that critical aspect to the series is tempered by his admiration for the people that call the school their own:
[Compared] to some of the other places that I have photographed: It’s true that the school is not an attractive place and that is an important part of the story. The energy of the youth is where I find the beauty and optimism.
The personalities of Wojack’s subjects shine through vibrantly, contrasting nicely with the institutional setting. Above is a prime example; Mike, a teachers’ aide that Aaron remember being “a great guy [with] an amazing rapport with the students.”
Check out more snapshots of a year in the life of a Manhattan high school below: