For as long as Jessica Blair can remember, she has had a passion for photography.
But turning her love of the lens into a career proved challenging for the Cavan Monaghan mother.
She filmed weddings. She photographed family portraits. But the camera seemed to be calling her elsewhere.
Then in 2015, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Countless tests and trips to Toronto followed. In waiting rooms and chemotherapy wards, Blair met and befriended cancer patients – some of whom were undergoing end-of-life care.
Despite the palpable sadness that darkened the hospital corridors, a light shone through.
They laughed together. They walked the streets of Toronto at night.
Blair often reached for her phone to snap a photo – capturing small, big moments of joy.
“What I found out is that they lived because they were dying. They have to live in a way that we don’t see and experience,” Blair recalls. “They’re saying, ‘I don’t want to sit here and wait. I want to go and experience life.”
For Blair it was a moment of clarity; realizing the power of the camera to immortalize loved ones even after they are gone.
Blair’s husband recovered and she embarked on a new venture: Follow Me Photography — a therapeutic photography service created to capture and memorialize loved ones during the final stages of their lives.
Now Blair is one step closer to making her passion project a reality.
Blair is one of seven local entrepreneurs who received a $5,000 grant to support their future businesses after completing the Spring Starter Company Plus program in Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development Center’s Business Advisory Center.
In May, Blair and 11 other small business owners began a five-week online business training course. Selected candidates participated in a series of virtual workshops led by experienced professionals.
Designed to equip participants with various tools and real business knowledge to nurture their startup ventures, the sessions covered a range of topics — from digital marketing and brand building to cash flow calculations and long-term financial projections.
At the end of the course, the participants had the task of presenting a business plan and a presentation. Out of a dozen entrants, Blair and five other area entrepreneurs were selected to receive micro-grants, made possible by the Ontario government, based on the strength of their proposals.
“(The course) actually started my business professionally. For years I tried to figure out how to start a photography business, but I couldn’t grasp the concept. This program introduced me to the business mindset. It gave me all the basic information I need now to run the business,” Blair said.
Blair says he plans to use the grant to start marketing his new venture. She wants to network with different organizations including hospice care centres, retirement homes, palliative care units and hospitals to ensure that the photography service is run in a sensitive, responsible and compassionate way.
“It’s not just about commemorating and honoring a person who is at the end of their life, but also allowing their loved ones to be a part of that after they’ve passed by being able to have these images to look back on. That goes into the therapeutic part,” Blair said.
“It allows people to go through the grieving process in a healthy way; so that they can honor their loved ones after they have passed away. It’s really about accepting death.”
The following companies received grants:
• Voula Halliday: The Flavor Fix Co., Peterborough
• Matt Anderson: Chemong City Greens, Peterborough
• Dave Bourgeois: Drumlin Cycle, Cavan Monaghan Township
• Julie Drain: Your Furever Friend Professional Pet Services, Douro-Dummer Township
• Jenish Odigineyev: Odigski Media, Peterborough
• Lewis Park: East City Guitar Co., Peterborough