Sunny Strader

Sunny Strader (b. 1991) is a documentary photographer based in Los Angeles and Danville, her 35,000-person hometown in central Illinois. Sunny’s work is inspired by her Midwestern upbringing and the West Coast culture of her current home. She approaches photography with journalistic flair, thanks to her time in the newspaper business. A point-and-shoot film camera is Sunny’s preferred medium for its nonchalance. Primary themes in her work include the dreams chased and dreams deferred.

The MATS Project

Of my sixteen fifth-grade classmates, six are parents. Eight graduated from college. Nine live in our hometown. Zero are married.

“The MATS Project” explores the adult lives of my fifth-grade classmates who, in 2002, were selected for the Motivating Academically-Talented Students (MATS) program in Danville, Illinois. To qualify, each student scored a 120 or higher on an IQ test.

The idea behind the program — now in its 30th year — is to relocate a group of intelligent students to the town’s poorest performing school in an effort to boost the school’s state test scores and secure state funding.

Among the program’s many functions, one is to inspire success in its promising students by offering a more rigorous curriculum. But what is “success,” after all? And have any of us achieved it?

This ongoing project examines traditional notions of success and how those ideas have played out for this sample group of intelligent millennial Midwesterners. The work is about dreams deferred, dreams chased; it’s about growing up and the external socioeconomic factors that determine our fate.

To view more of Sunny’s work please visit her website.