• Bianca Colon (left) and twins Brandon and Madison Stores (right)

    Bianca Colon (left) and twins Brandon and Madison Stores (right)

  • Roman Vazquez (left) and Sissell Gaviola (right)

    Roman Vazquez (left) and Sissell Gaviola (right)

Pandemic Class of 2020

Elias Williams

Photoville Festival

On view at Broadway and 44th Street 

For the first time in its 9 year history, The Photoville Festival comes to Times Square! In addition to 60 photography exhibitions presented across all five boroughs, The Photoville Festival is staging online storytelling events, artist talks, workshops, demonstrations, educational programs, and community programming this fall.

On view on Broadway and 44th Street is the work of Bronx-based photographer Elias Williams, whose work honors the stories and experiences of underrepresented communities through portraiture and long-form essays. Pandemic Class of 2020 features portraits of New York City’s spring graduates - from pre-K to medical school - and articulates the diversity of their experiences as the height of the pandemic intersected with such a significant milestone in their academic lives.

Due to the pandemic, academic institutions in New York City and across the country still grapple with how to educate their students in the coming year, and were forced to significantly alter their commencement ceremonies for the class prior. Schools either cancelled, postponed, or developed virtual ceremonies for their 2020 graduates, which for many, meant missing out on celebrating what would have a fulfilling moment with proud family members and friends.

Hear more about Williams’ process and learn about the graduates featured in his photo series in National Geographic: Meet New York City’s Graduates, from Aspiring Actors to First-Generation Dreamers

Pandemic Class of 2020: Bianca Colon portrait

After graduating from the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan, Bianca Colon will study cartooning at Syracuse University. But first, as senior class president, she was supposed to give the commencement address. But as schools in New York stayed shut through the pandemic, the graduation switched to online. "I lost it...it sucked," says Colon, who is the only one of her siblings to graduate from high school. "I mostly think about what it means for my mother," she says, who won't get to see any of her children walk across a stage to get their diploma.

Pandemic Class of 2020: Brandon & Madison Stores portrait

Twins Brandon and Madison Stores struggled to adapt when their eighth grade classes at Success Academy Harlem East were moved online. “Remote learning is so different from being in the classroom,” says Madison. While they miss their school, teachers, and friends, there are some upsides to quarantine: For Madison, it’s how much closer the family has gotten. For Brandon, it’s sleeping in past 6:30 a.m. The twins may be splitting ways as they enter high school, but there will be no graduation ceremony to mark the milestone.

Pandemic Class of 2020: Roman Vazquez portrait

What Roman Vazquez misses most about I.S. 237, a middle school in Queens, is seeing his friends. But, he sees the plus side to quarantine: time to finish old video games and hang out with his parents and siblings. Even without a traditional graduation ceremony, he's excited about what's next: four years at Bayside High studying sports medicine and management.

Pandemic Class of 2020: Sissell Gaviola portrait

Sissell Gaviola comes from a long line of nurses and surgeons. After years spent as a competitive kickboxer, the 23-year-old first-generation immigrant just graduated from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics—a rebellious move in her family. When COVID-19 pushed her ceremony into the fall, it brought back memories of the music-filled barbecues her family would throw for graduations when she was a growing up. But she’s hopeful about her future and the flexibility that remote opportunities offer: “I can basically work wherever I am,” she says.


About the Artist
Elias Williams
 is a New York City-based photographer whose work honors under-represented people in the United States. Through portraiture and long-form essays, he studies the cultural and historical significance of everyday people within these communities.

His photographs have been showcased at the International Photo Festival Leiden, the Morris Museum, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Elias is also a contributing photographer to AARPBloomberg Markets, NPR, National GeographicThe New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal among others.

Williams is also a 2017 Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow, and 2017 recipient of the Bronx Council on the Arts’s Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) award, and he is currently participating in the 2020 World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass.

About the Photoville Festival
The PHOTOVILLE Festival, New York City’s FREE premier photo destination, returns for a ninth year in a different way — online community storytelling events plus photo exhibitions in public spaces throughout New York City.

This annual community gathering features public exhibitions, virtual storytelling events, artist talks, workshops, demonstrations, educational programs, and community programming. The Photoville Festival provides an accessible venue for photographers and audiences from every walk of life to engage with each other, and experience thought-provoking photography from across the globe — with free admission for all!