MILLBURN, NJ — Taking inspiration from similar projects around the country, a pair of Millburn residents are looking to give the class of 2020 a spotlight in a safe and socially-distant way, through a series of photographs that help tell their stories.
In each picture, which is accompanied by a small block of text, students get the chance to share their thoughts about the situation, their place in school and more.
Therapist Nancy Kislin and Millburn 2019 graduate Chloe Xiang, the brains behind the project, sat down with TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills for an interview about the thought behind their process, what they have seen form the graduates and more.
“So basically, Nancy and I were just talking about ways that we could give back to our community," Xiang said. "And she had seen this thing of somebody, I think in Virginia, who was doing a photo project with seniors, but differently from mine, because he was taking pictures of them in one static spot."
For Xiang, a Media Culture and Communication Major at New York University, she felt that while her senior pictures were readily available, they did not capture her personality, and decidedly were not as readily accesible. That all factored into her discussion with Kislin.
"We were thinking that doing these pictures and having me as a young person, take my creative expertise and be able to share their identities and capture [them] in this kind of alternate period," Xiang said. "We wanted it to highlight that even though they’re not able to necessarily see their friends or go to school, there’s still a lot to celebrate and there’s more than just this one year to celebrate, but an accumulation of all their 12 years of work.”
As Kislin, a licensed clinical social worker, marriage and family psychotherapist noted, the initial meeting was simple, but the process of getting the photoshoots from planning to fully realized idea took up the bulk of their time.
“It took us about a week to get all the pieces in place, but then it took a couple of weeks to just iron out some kinks,” Kislin said. “And then we were able to work with the parents of the senior celebration for Millburn high School. And once we got their blessings, we were able to start to advertise it.”
“Just by the people who have been responding to me and responding to the pictures, a lot of the kids are very excited about their pictures," Xiang said. "Going into these photoshoots, a lot of them tell me ‘this is actually the first time I’ve ever had one of these types of photoshoots where I get to meet with a photographer outside of school,’ and [they’re] free to express themselves.
Xiang also noted that the clothing students chose to dress in during their photoshoots is indicative of the personality they are choosing to show.
As Kislin noted, even though the pandemic is continuing, coupled with the recent protests over the death of George Floyd, the students of the Millburn High School Class of 2020 are using the opportunity in these photographs to show their resiliency and personality in a turbulent time.
“I think that Chloe is incredibly talented, and she is helping them sort of bring forth the essence of them," Kislin said. "And I do like the word resilience. What comes to mind is [the seniors] just really wanting to be seen. However they dress themselves, however they stand, it’s just ‘see me, hear me, don’t forget about me. Because yes, the world is going crazy, and there’s all kinds of unusual times, but I’m still here.’”