I graduated in 2002. I was surrounded by my best friends, with my sweetie (at the time) by my side, and my parents and huge, extended family there to celebrate me. It was a good time, despite the fact I did not win the English Award (huge side-eye to my teacher, Chuck). I wore a pastel blue a-line dress with silver florals, white knee-length gloves, and a set of pearl earrings and necklace that I still have to this day. Somewhere. I may even have had on a tiara, I’m not sure.
Oh man, I found a picture.
Okay, I’m not gonna lie, my hair was luscious. I miss that. I also did not have a tiara, but I did have “pearl” drops in my hair.
I can’t explain it.
It was 2002.
I am so distracted now, by the amazingness that is our grad picture. Our theme was something to do with springtime and forests, and we made sure the women had outfits that matched the decor, because obviously, and my first love is also in this picture (not naming names) and I can’t believe I ever thought I was fat.
For me, grad was a big deal. I had made it, and I had made it with my besties by my side. I remember the joy I felt in that day, and I remember the amazing food my family made, and I remember the crazy stories from the after-party around breakfast the next day.
But I also remember it being my first time in front of a professional camera. I remember being somewhat interested in photography – I still had a point and shoot that I carried arounds school – and I remember how rushed I felt with my 15 minutes to get 12 images of my family, myself, and any friends I may want. I sat on the hard bench, trying to imitate the moves he had made the other grads do, and I felt the awkwardness in my shoulders, and I didn’t want to smile, because this wasn’t good.
When I received my images back, there were no images where I felt beautiful. Where I felt powerful. I didn’t like the way I looked, I didn’t like the way I was posed, I didn’t like the cliché of it all. I didn’t see myself in this set of stock images.
I didn’t order any prints, and I think the pack of sample images is still at my mom’s place, somewhere.
Fast forward to 2010, and I was asked to document some grad images for my hometown. I had moved back from Vancouver earlier that spring, finishing my MFA and deciding what I wanted to do with my life. And somehow, the camera was going to be part of it.
So a few nights before the big event, I took my Grads down to the rivers, the valleys, the fields of grass, and laughed. I made them sit in down, spraying them down with bug spray as we were swarmed. I made them hug trees, stand stoic, grin at me with mischief in their eyes. I made them go down into the dam, go sit on the piles of chopped wood, and stand in the forests.
And it was good.
It was soooo good.
I’ve been photographing my Northern Grads going onto my seventh summer. I have worked in Beauval, Patuanak, Meadow Lake, Birch Narrows, Prince Albert, Rosthern and North Battleford. I have worked with my Métis, Dene and Cree kids while laughing at thick accents and the massive amount of family members that show up for ‘immediate family only’ images. I have eaten dry meat given to me as a gift, and smoked cigarettes with Elders even though I don’t smoke – because you don’t say no to tobacco – while trying not to cough. I have helped Grandma’s across fields of grass, and watched Uncles hop off the skiffs to join in on the family portraits.
I have marvelled at the absolute beauties that our youth are.
I hope they see these images and smile. I hope they look back at their stacks of prints, grin, and remember a good time, a good moment. I hope they feel powerful.
– tenille campbell