“I met [associate photo editor] Marie [Tobias] while shooting at the TIME office last year, and we connected over photography and shoes! She showed me the Best Inventions project for that year, and we were excited to wait for the perfect opportunity to get to work together. This year, she approached me to do the Best Inventions project, and I was ecstatic. I looped in one of my favorite collaborators, prop stylist Stephanie Yeh, and Marie gave us free rein to bring the inventions to life.

Jessica Pettway on Set

Steph and I have been craving an opportunity to experiment with foam, and this project seemed like the perfect time. We wanted to explore tactile sets and textures that appear to give movement to a still life image, so we brought in all kinds of foams in different sizes, shapes, and textures. We used mattress foam, soundproofing foam, paper with foam ridges, packing foam—anything colorful and textural that we could get our hands on. Stephanie had the amazing idea to use balloons of all different sizes and shapes to create “hills” and additional texture and movement within the photo.

Prop stylist Stephanie Yeh with a bounty of foam

I’m so excited that I finally got to experiment with foam and shoot all of the fun new devices in the project. It’s also super cool to be able to get the cover. Marie told me that only one other Black woman has shot a Time cover: when Carrie Mae Weems shot Spike Lee. Carrie Mae Weems has been a huge inspiration for me for years, and she spoke at my undergraduate graduation. I’m beyond honored to hold space in the magazine and within her company. In all, the entire project was a fun full-circle experience!”