There is perhaps no scarier or more exciting time in a person's life than the end of high school — few cares, your life ahead of you, a maelstrom of choices and concerns.
Omaha-born photographer Sean Thomas captured this critical moment for some Westside High School students in a soon-to-be-published photo series titled “Here and Beyond: A Nebraska Story.”
The piece isn't simply a portrait of life in Omaha. It's a chronicle of the final stages of youth.
“It's really more just about this incredible turning point in a young person's life,” Thomas said. “It's when you're preparing to leave, not knowing what's ahead but still leaving everything that you do now behind, all your best friends and your first loves and all your experiences and you're going off to this new adventure.”
Thomas started his own adventure when he moved from Omaha right after high school. The 1996 Westside graduate now splits his time between London and New York. He has taken photos for renowned fashion designers Tommy Hilfiger, Jimmy Choo and Stella McCartney as well as for Gap, i-D Magazine, Teen Vogue and other publications.
Thomas always wanted to come back and shoot photos in his hometown. So when famed photographer Bruce Weber's team approached him and asked him to head back to his alma mater to take pictures of their senior prom, he quickly agreed.
Weber is behind campaigns for numerous fashion giants, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Calvin Klein. His work has also been featured in Vogue, GQ and other major magazines. Weber publishes an annual anthology called “All-American.” Thomas' work in Omaha will be featured in the upcoming release, “All-American Volume Thirteen: Born Ready”
Less than two days after Weber asked him to come shoot, Thomas was back in the halls of Westside.
“There's these little lockers and the hallways are small, but when I went there I felt like it was just this huge world, because it was,” Thomas said. “It was my huge world back then.”
During his first trip, he followed a group of 30 students around at their senior prom. In these pictures, a young woman sits in her bedroom, getting her hair curled before the big night. Students share a kiss. Groups of friends move together as they dance. All of the awkward and beautiful moments of the night are laid bare.
When he brought these pictures back to New York, Weber loved them. He quickly sent Thomas back to capture more scenes.
On his second trip, Thomas took pictures of Nebraska landmarks: grain elevators, open fields and Gorat's restaurant. He reconnected with a young couple he met at the prom and spent the day with them. The images capture intimate moments: The couple hugging in a pool, running through a field and enjoying a beautiful day together.
Thomas' project joins the work of other famed photographers, including Lisa Eisner, Poppy De Villeneuve and Weber. One of Thomas' images is also featured on the slipcover for the book.
“All-American Volume Thirteen: Born Ready,” will be released on Friday. It is available for purchase at www.dashwoodbooks.com