Photo Essay: Senior year in the age of COVID

Caria Taylor, a member of Cass Tech High School’s Class of 2021, used the isolation of COVID as an opportunity to develop her hobbies: reading, writing, and photography.

When George Floyd was murdered, and racial justice protests swept across the country, she was out in the streets with her camera. Caria leaned on organizations such as Capturing Belief, a Detroit-based photography program, and the Detroit Youth Choir — groups that helped to develop her creative vision and voice long before the pandemic began.

After watching the Class of 2020 miss out on their proms and traditional graduation ceremonies, among other rites of passage, Caria and her class had the opportunity to attend those milestone events together. It was the first time she had seen many of her classmates since March 2020, and they managed to pick up just where they left off.

In these pictures and an original poem, titled “Fantasy Turns Into Reality,” Caria gives a first-hand account of her journey in three parts: watching her creative voice blossom at the height of the pandemic, experiencing the joy of prom and graduation, and returning to some level of normalcy as she and her friends spend time together before they venture into adulthood.

Caria Taylor sits behind a Macbook laptop, wearing headphones and a black hooded sweatshirt.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there was lots of time, too much time. Days morphed into weeks, and weeks morphed into months. But the time gave me the opportunity to discover my creativity once again.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

Fantasy Turns Into Reality

Looking back at this year leaves a funny feeling.

I feel like I’ve grown so much in a year of quietness.

I’ve learned some lessons,

I became a student to change,

Teenagers walk through a parking garage, all wearing purple and white hoodies with the letters “DYC” on the back.

“A year had gone by since our choir performed at the highest level: competing on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ During the pandemic, we spent months apart. When we reunited, it felt magical to be surrounded by like-minded performance artists.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

Without even sitting in a classroom

Living in a virtual world that left me wondering:

“Is this really all that is left?”

Protesters march in downtown Detroit holding signs in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“After months of isolation and silence, that silence was disturbed by the killing of unarmed Black people. The world felt the adrenaline of the protests taking place right in our backyards. Finally, the silence broke, and I wanted my voice to be heard.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

A teenager wearing a black mask passes signs that read “ENTER HERE” and outline social distancing policies.

“COVID changed the course of my high school experience. It created a barrier in the way that my friends and I could interact, both physically and spiritually.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

Feelings of hopelessness pointed me towards a higher power:

I became more curious,

The world left my mind yearning,

As I looked for inspiration around me:

I found it in the church,

A neon sign reading “Refreshments” sits atop a food vending section at a drive-in movie theater.

“Being able to go to the drive-in again brought back intense feelings of nostalgia. Making this photograph there made me think back to my childhood and distracted me from the reality of the pandemic.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

In the books I was reading,

In the music I was singing,

In the gym when I could make it,

In my plants that taught me patience,

(Left) A young man holds a Spaulding basketball over his head, aiming at a basketball hoop with faded orange lines. (Right) An orange Spaulding basketball is held in an outstretched hand against a bright blue sky.

“When my friend Caleb asked me to take these pictures, I told him to do his thing, allowing me to organically capture him doing what he loved the most. I tried to photograph him in a way that felt cinematic, larger than life itself.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

In my camera that gave me a voice,

In myself when I had no choice.

Could this be the end?

The thought of seeing friends face-to-face became a possibility,

A photograph of a young man sitting in warm bright light is laid over a photograph of circular lights hanging from a ceiling.

“It’s been a long-held tradition for graduating seniors to travel for spring break, and it became safe enough to travel to see my childhood friend Dwayne in Atlanta. I wanted to document this time to see how we’ve grown together after so much time apart, and how we have always managed to pick up where we left off.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

And we picked up right where we left off: together.

It is quite confusing after a pandemic year,

A young man in a white hoodie walks by a set of tables on a rooftop in Atlanta.

“I made this picture because, in that moment, it gave me the feeling of being transported to another place — a place that felt familiar without physically being there.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

(Left) A young man holds a large drink in his hands at a carnival. (Middle) A young woman wearing a black mask, black shirt and glasses holds a peace sign up while sitting in a booth. (Right) A young man takes a sip of a drink with a green straw. You can see people riding a carnival ride in the top left-hand corner.

“I wanted to make these pictures to keep these memories alive, to create a living document of the time that my friends and I spent together during this time.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

But I nonetheless I embraced it,

And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.

So in these moments, everything becomes normal.

Everything becomes what it was supposed to be:

A few days of fantasy

A return to normalcy.

A group of young women pose together with their food at a restaurant table, with sunlight cascading in behind them.

“This moment is very special to me. Because of COVID, my friends and I hadn’t seen each other in such a long time. It felt amazing being able to share a day with each other, reminiscing about how we had come into each other’s lives in the first place. We didn’t know when we would be able to see each other again.”
Caria Taylor for Chalkbeat

Caria Taylor is a recent graduate of Cass Tech High School in Detroit. Caria has been experimenting with photography for the past few years and participates in the Detroit-based visual storytelling program Capturing Belief. She will continue to make pictures as a hobby while attending Wayne State University in the fall. Caria is currently interning with Ford and hopes to pursue a career in STEM after college.

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