Photographer Kial James offers free portrait session to graduating western Nevada County students |

Photographer Kial James offers free portrait session to graduating western Nevada County students

Victoria Penate
Staff Writer


Faced with canceled cap-and-gown ceremonies due to the coronavirus crisis, The Union seeks to highlight and honor the graduating Class of 2020.

One of several ways to do so is by parents, educators, family and friends submitting a photo and a short bio about their graduate to The submissions will be published online for all the graduates, families, friends and the community to see, at no cost.

Visit for more information.

To Sherri Osorio, the mother of a graduating senior at Nevada Union High School, senior portraits are as important a tradition now as ever.

In response to the loss of a conventional graduation ceremony and other highly anticipated end-of-year activities, Osorio expressed that the memories captured by senior portraits have become even more significant to the students and their families.

“They’ve all worked hard and spent a lot of years to get here, and it’s just so sad to feel like they don’t have something coming at the end,” she said.

Her son, Amador, is a junior coach at Gold Country Gymnastics, where he helped the gym’s boys team on their season-long road to regionals — originally scheduled for early April, and now canceled.

“It’s huge to be able to get these extra memories, because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Osorio.

She reached out to Kial James, the local photographer behind Nevada City Scenics, to ask if he would take Amador’s senior portraits.

Feeling that the sentiment of lost experiences was shared across the community, Osorio also came to James with the idea of offering senior portraits to all Nevada Union seniors, to which he responded with an even bigger plan.

He announced in April that he would be offering a portrait session to graduating students of any school, whether they were finishing eighth grade, high school, or their post-secondary education — as long as they call western Nevada County home.

James’ offer included a 15-minute session with each student at a location of their choice as well as an 8-by-10-inch print, both free of charge.

James titled the project “Retrospectives: Capturing 2020 Grads from the ‘Lost Year’”, and began advertising the offer through social media and on his website:

“The response has been overwhelming and wonderful,” said James, sharing that he had received over 100 sign-ups.

Community effort

These students came from various local schools, including Nevada Union High School, Bear River High School, Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, Seven Hills Middle School, and Lyman Gilmore Middle School.

In the midst of COVID-19 concerns, James was conscious of potential risks and has found ways to mitigate them while conducting the photo shoots.

“We are absolutely taking precautions, and will be wearing masks whenever we meet with people, and not be within 10 feet of them,” said James, adding that he would be using a longer, telephoto lens on his camera to facilitate working at that distance.

James described this project as “a community effort,” mentioning that administration for Bear River High School has given him permission to conduct outdoor photo sessions on its campus, and that he is looking into similar approval from other local schools.

He is also working in collaboration with the Nevada County Cinderella Project, a nonprofit that provides special occasion dresses to local high school juniors and seniors. Instead of its usual focus on helping students who would have trouble acquiring a dress for their prom, the organization is now providing dresses for senior portraits.

The phenomenon of the “lost year” hit close to home for James, as two of his five children will be reaching major educational milestones this year.

His daughter, Lauren, is finishing eighth grade at Nevada City School of the Arts while his son, Riley, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis.

“After realizing that they’re not going to get their ceremonies, I decided to step up and offer something to the community,” said James. “I want to capture this moment in time that’s really unique to our history.”

Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union.

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