Sheila Pinkel, Professor Emerita of Art (Pomona College) was born in Newport News, Virginia. She attended Santa Monica High School and University of California, Berkeley (Bachelor of Arts in Art/Sculpture, 1963) before getting her MFA in Art/Photography from UCLA in 1977. From 1986 – 2011 she was a Professor of Art at Pomona College in California.
Since 1973, all of her work has been about making visible the invisible in nature and in culture. Initially, she used many light sensitive emulsions and technologies to reveal the infinite potential for form in nature and the landscape of her imagination. In 2010, she scanned her camera lens on a digital scanner and discovered that every lens has its own unique refractive fingerprint. Since then, she has scanned over 500 lenses from museum and private collections around the country.
After 1980, as she became increasingly concerned about the growth of the military industrial complex, her work included themes related to the nuclear industry, foreign military sales and the destructiveness of war. In 1990, after learning that half a million people were in refugee camps in Thailand, she photographed in five Cambodian and Hmong camps in Thailand and began a longitudinal project on the aftermath of war and its effect on the peoples who survive. This project, Indochina Document includes two large works, Remember Cambodia and Hmong In Transition. Since 1994, she has also done numerous documentary projects including photographing museum guards, tribal peoples of Baluchistan, Pakistan, and the garment industry in Los Angeles and Bangkok, Thailand.
Most recently she has done a large body of work about the growth of incarceration in the United States and the loss of civil liberties. She has come to think of all of her work as Site Unseen and has titled all of these bodies of work using this term: Site Unseen: Light Works; Site Unseen: Incarceration; Site Unseen: Museum Guards; Site Unseen: The Garment Industry, etc. In this way, not only does she reference realities we normally can’t see, but she invites viewers to imagine their own.