At her eighteenth birthday party, Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste received the gift of a red dress, made by her mother’s friend. “She used to work at a garment factory during the day, and at night, she would create the most exquisite dresses for us,” the artist remembers. “She was a magician. I got to pick out the silk fabric and the Vogue pattern myself.”
That red dress, given to her as she emerged from childhood into adulthood, remains a vivid memory from her time growing up. “I’m an only child and grew up in an extremely tight-knight immigrant Haitian community in Montreal,” she tells me. “I used to spend a ton of time with my own cousins, family friends, and god-sisters. It seems like there was always a sleepover happening at someone’s house. One of my favorite memories is of riding my bike to explore my new neighborhood with my cousins.”
The artist still lives in Montreal, now with a ten-year-old daughter of her own. During the summer of 2021, her fourteen-year-old niece came to visit, and the girls would go on adventures together. When inspiration struck, Jean-Baptiste would capture them together, lost in the joys of play and each other. “We were almost a year and a half into the pandemic, but the girls seemed to have retained the joy and light that seemed to have evaded so many of my adult friends.
“2021 was a really nice and warm summer–the kind of summer that is lazy and easy,” she tells me now. Blueberries grew in her backyard, and when the cousins woke up, they’d almost always eat some with their breakfast. She still remembers the scent of the blueberries and grass in the sunshine. Those warm and easy summer days culminated in a lyrical series simply called The Cousins.
Someday, Jean-Baptiste’s daughter hopes to become a mangaka, a manga artist, and her niece wants to follow in her dad’s footsteps to become a doctor. These pictures are a time capsule of their girlhood–representing a summer when they felt a sense of carefree belonging, despite the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic.
The photographer sees herself in both girls, and in many ways, her childhood self lingers in every frame, along with her own cousins, god-sisters, and friends. Throughout the pictures made last summer, Jean-Baptiste’s niece wears the red dress she once wore at age eighteen, as she transitioned from girlhood into womanhood. The artist tells me, “My niece said she felt like a princess wearing it.”
Jean-Baptiste is a member of Black Women Photographers. She is also the recipient of a $3,000 grant from Black Women Photographers and Nikon, part of the inaugural Black Women Photographers grant series. To learn more about Black Women Photographers, visit their website, and follow along on Instagram at @blackwomenphotographers.