NEW YORK (PIX11) — Photographer Raven B. Varona, professionally known as Ravie B., prides herself on knowing the “best side” of her subjects.
After more than a decade of shooting concerts, events, celebrities, and artists all around the world — the Bronx native is shifting her focus to capturing the “best side” of students across New York City.
Through her new nonprofit, Best Side Foundation, Varona is on a mission to carry out her organization’s first initiative: Making picture day free for New York City schools that can’t afford it.
“I just feel things like school lunch and picture day should be free,” Varona said. “I don’t think a lot people realize how expensive picture day actually is.”
Through this new initiative, Varona hopes that she’ll be able to take some of the financial burden that comes with picture day off of at least 5-10 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 1 school.
This means that at least 40% of students come from low-income households and qualify for free lunch.
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.
For Raven, picture day is more than just a a few minutes of snapping away at a photo that a student may or may not like.
As a woman of color, she explained that it’s also a chance for her to create a safe space for students in underrepresented communities and give them the opportunity to truly feel seen.
“I went to school in the Bronx from K-8 my whole life and then I went to high school in Harlem, so I’ve aways felt under underrepresented,” Varona said. “We’ve always felt like the last people to be thought about or considered or looked to the side of and I just don’t want these kids to feel that way anymore.”
Varona aims to create a new experience for city students — one that’s rooted in authenticity. To her, these school photos are meant to act as a time capsule, allowing kids the opportunity to look back in the years to come at who they were during their adolescence.
“I want you to get your photo taken by me and you look at that photo and say this is who I am. This is me,” Varona said. ”I hope that when kids look back and see the photos I take of them, they have a core memory that made them feel inspired and happy that they were seen.”
In the next few years, Varona hopes to expand the picture day initiative beyond New York City and cover other states across the U.S.
Under her foundation Best Side, she also wants to begin mentorship programs where she’s able to teach some of the older kids the ins and outs of photography.
Applications for Best Side’s Picture Day initiative can be found HERE.
PIX11’s Frank Melli contributed to the editing of this project.