Submitted by Andrea Walker Collins, Cedar Coast Photography
About a year and a half ago, I had the wonderful experience of participating in a diversity workshop facilitated by Steven Baileys, Community Development Coordinator at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria. Leading up to this day, in my photography practice, I had wanted to find a community project I could work on which would uplift a valuable demographic in our city, and I was suddenly inspired.
On the day of the workshop, I came in with no expectations, and within a few minutes, my heart was immediately weighing me down. We began our workshop by introducing ourselves and then explaining where and how our families had come to be in Victoria. Right away, I realized I had come from a unique experience in comparison to most of my colleagues, as I shared aloud that my mother had come to Canada as a 7-year-old political refugee. My grandparents escaped from former Yugoslavia, literally in the bushes in the darkness of night, to eventually call Canada their home. I knew this story very well, because I have participated in retelling it for most of my life. But on this particular day of the diversity workshop, as it was shared in commonality with my friends and colleagues, the words somehow became more weighted. I felt vulnerable. Different.
The workshop experience immediately struck a chord, and I realized I wanted my first community project to be about and for newcomers who are calling Victoria, B.C. their home, whether permanently or temporarily.
About a year after my mother came to Canada, my grandparent’s had their first family portrait taken. It has endured as a symbol of our family’s new life as Canadians, as each household has their own special framed copy of this picture hanging on walls, sitting on mantels, reminding us all of how we came to be Canadians. An idea developed, and I reached out to the Inter-Cultural Association to propose a project and was introduced to Paulina Grainger, ICA’s Arts & Culture Coordinator. I proposed to Paulina a project where I could provide the experience of having a family portrait taken to symbolize a new life in Canada, much like my grandparents had many years ago. Paulina helped to connect me with a selection of families in our community, and thus began what I call The Newcomer Project. Each family I meet receives a free family portrait session. Some families are having their portrait taken for the first time in their lives.
I look forward to sharing with you the pictures that come about from this project, as I meet new friends, develop new understandings of family, place, and connectedness to the communities that surround us and create the complexity of our diverse city and nation.
CAPTION: The photo here is of Andrea’s mother, holding the family portrait referred to in the article.