Picture day almost did not happen for a New York City school, until a celebrity photographer stepped in to shoot the students’ portraits.
But Varona took on a different role when she saved picture day for the students at P.S. 25 The Eubie Blake School in Brooklyn, New York.
According to PBS News Hour, P.S. 25 The Eubie Blake School was about to cancel picture day after not being able to fund it.
The school is categorized as a Title One school meaning at least 40% of students come from low-income households and qualify for free lunch.
This year makes 7 years of being freelance. 12+ years of being a photographer. I still take small jobs. I still feel like I’m scratching the surface and I still learn something new on every job. Definitely feel like I’m about to unlock a new level though.
— RAVEN B. (@RAVIEB) April 6, 2022
Karlie Hustle, whose daughter attends P.S. 25 The Eubie Blake School, knew Varona through her work in the music industry.
The parent decided to get in touch with Varona about shooting the school’s picture day after the successful freelance photographer tweeted that she still took “small jobs.”
“I’m scratching the surface and I still learn something new on every job,” Varona tweeted in April.
Hustle says the idea of Varona shooting picture day for P.S. 25 The Eubie Blake School “clicked” when she saw the photographer’s tweet.
“Photos are keepsakes, these are moments you get to crystallize in time,” Hustle tells PBS News Hour.
“To think that this might be a year where those kids didn’t have photos, that didn’t sit right with me and my daughter’s father so we sought out Raven and we got it done.”
Varona, who went to a Title One school in the Bronx, New York tells PBS NewsHour “I have certain years of picture day where I don’t have a photo because we couldn’t afford it even though my mum made sure to try to get it every year.”
“We forget as adults that these moments are so monumental for the day.”
Varona took the photos for the students at P.S. 25 The Eubie Blake School and encouraged them to have their own agency in the portraits.
The photographer put monitors around the set so that the children could see themselves as they were taking the picture and encouraged the kids to pose in a way they felt comfortable.
The photographer says she was moved by the experience.
“It made me really emotional to just be reminded how creativity of photography is a privilege,” Varona tells PBS News Hour.
“This idea of photo day and this memory for children in a school being a privilege that so many can’t afford or they can’t look back on in ten years and see themselves in school was really disheartening to me.”
Making Picture Day Free for Low-Income Students
Through her new nonprofit, Best Side Foundation, Varona is inviting other Title One schools in New York City that cannot afford it to apply for their own free picture day with her.
“I just feel things like school lunch and picture day should be free,” Varona tells Pix11. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how expensive picture day actually is.”
Traditionally, students would be required to pay for their photo prints following picture day.
However, through a partnership with Canon, Varona is now able to cover all of the costs and even ship prints to students and their families for free.
Through this new initiative, Varona hopes that she will be able to take some of the financial burden that comes with picture day off of at least five to 10 schools across the city.
Any school within the five boroughs is eligible to apply for Best Side’s picture day project so long as it is a Title One school.
More information can be found on the website for Best Side Foundation.