“Two,” by Melissa Ann Pinney. (Harper Design)

“Doesn’t everyone lean towards another? Even as we’re alone, don’t we seek out some other half to fill in our story?” Ann Patchett asks in her thoughtful introduction to “Two,” a vibrant collaboration of photography and essay.

Melissa Ann Pinney’s remarkable photographs convey connection across every page: the mirroring of posture, mood and attention; the relationship between two bodies connected in conversation, spirit, focus or wariness.

Woven through this beautiful book are reflections by a host of literary lights — Billy Collins, Edwidge Danticat, Elizabeth Gilbert, Allan Gurganus, Jane Hamilton, Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth McCracken, Maile Meloy, Susan Orlean and Richard Russo — who offer insight into the idea of togetherness.

In her witty essay, Gilbert confesses to being a “hardworking-half-ass” who can write quickly but is sloppy. “I am the enthusiastic researcher, the breakneck storyteller, the extremely confident narrator, the fastest writer in the joint,” she reveals, “but I will never be the person with the magnifying glass, inspecting every sentence for dust mites of fallacy of infelicity.” For that she needs someone more precise, her other half, if you will, a meticulous reader and editor who allows Gilbert “to fly blind.”

Kingsolver expounds on the intimacy of parenthood and of a child’s instinctual knowledge to not impinge upon this sacred bond: “Forsaking all others. Before we are trained to know it, children know to be wary,” she writes. “If we should open a door and happen upon these two, we know to be still, breathe carefully, step quietly out of the room.”

Men on a beach in Sarasota, Fla., in 2008. (Melissa Ann Pinney)

The images highlight the dichotomy found everywhere — in humans and objects alike. There is opposite in all: bright and dark, shadow and light, the painted and the unadorned, the past and the future. The joy of turning each page lies in the discovery of two, of spotting the duality in each image: two silhouetted hands floating before the white curtains of a light-filled bedroom; the juxtaposition of two people clearly inhabiting two head-spaces — one focused and present, the other distant and removed. An image of a poised elderly woman occupies the center of one photograph where, just beyond, in the background and simultaneously the past, sits a portrait of what could be the youthful version of herself: same expression, same tilt of the head, same curl of hair; she is, at once, two.

Lauren Knight is a writer and photographer in St. Louis who blogs at Crumb Bums.


Photographs by Melissa Ann Pinney

Edited by Ann Patchett

A woman gives a man a haircut in Siesta Key, Fla. (Melissa Ann Pinney)

Harper Design. 208 pp. $29.99