Covid-19 Porchtrait Project – Background/Description

Not long after the covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. and we went into lockdown, I received a text message from my sister sharing an article about a family photographer offering “porchtraits” to clients—photographing families outside their homes from a safe distance. The photographer was offering these photographs for a small donation, with money collected being contributed to a local charity. I thought it sounded like a great idea, though I was interested in doing something a bit more photojournalistic. I have a masters degree in journalism and spent many years working as a newspaper photographer, so the idea of taking portraits of families at this particularly difficult time in our country’s history, really appealed to me. I also wanted to get the impressions and perspectives of the mother’s dealing with this new reality as they faced the uncertainty and anxiety with their families at home.

I am the admin of a rather tight Facebook moms group of some 270 members. I put the idea of doing porchtraits out to the group and found many members were interested in participating. All photographs for the project were taken in a six day period between March 28th and April 2nd and most answers to the questions were submitted within one to two weeks of the shooting dates. Obviously, perspectives may have changed a bit from week three of the lockdown to mid-May. This project is but a snapshot of the first few weeks of shelter-in-place. 

Project assistant William, 6, waits for his mom while she photographs a family.

In total, 33 members of the moms group participated. Many more were interested, but I decided to suspend the project for a number of reasons. I explained my reasoning in the following post to the group – 

It’s with a heavy heart that I’ve decided to pull the plug on further photography for the Covid-19 Porchtrait Project. Before taking on the project, a photographer friend and I discussed the ethical implications of shooting porch portraits, with both of us respectively coming to different opinions regarding the practice. I rationalized that I’d be following CDC social distancing standards, interactions would be short and I’d be documenting this historical time as a photojournalism project. I have a M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri and worked for years as a staff photographer before becoming a SAHM and wedding/family photographer. It was my calling— my love and passion—and to feel like I was doing a bit of photojournalism again felt amazing. Porch portraits were in no way, shape or form a business strategy or form of promotion for me, as anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a really shitty business person.

That’s not to say the project wasn’t providing me with something of value. I was able to get out and feel just a little bit of normal again. I was able to have—although brief and from a distance —personal connections with my subjects, you beautiful mamas and your families. I was able to get my wild boys out of the house, while driving around and listening to their favorite songs. The boys were able to see other kids and wave from the car windows. It was glorious and gave me a sense of purpose again, a much, much needed sense of normalcy. And I think participants enjoyed seeing another person and having something to break-up their day.

So what has changed? For one, my anxiety. It’s been building up and today was a rough one. I worry that we just don’t know enough about this disease and by going out there and working on the project, I’m flirting with too much risk and possibly putting you at risk, too. As much as I’d like to think of myself as the Dorthea Lange of Covid-19, I’m just a mom who would really like to be around to see her boys graduate from high school some day, and I know you all want the same for your kids. So the best way to mitigate risk is to truly stay home.

More on Porch Photography and Safety

Project assistant #2, Oskar, 9, is ready for a snack.

Participants were asked to donate money if they felt they could, but they were not required to do so to take part in the project. More than $1,200 was raised through porchtrait donations and other member donations. Money raised was used to provide a $100 Target gift card to mom group members who were struggling financially due to the pandemic.  

Although it’s fairly apparent we’re not the most diverse Facebook moms group out there—we are a close knit group who looks after each other. There are a few things that set us apart from many of the big Facebook moms groups. Our group is small by design. New members need to be invited in by current members, who vouch for their character. Their character must align with some basic viewpoints—basically progressive politics and a belief in science. Absolutely no Trumpsters or anti-vaxxers. Some may point out this creates a comfortable little bubble of like-mindedness, but you know what, compared to the toxic environments I’ve run into in other Facebook moms groups with thousands of members, I’ll take my safe space of like-mindedness any day. We also make a big effort to meet each other in real life, with various activities planned throughout the year. We plan a weekly bar meet-up (now a virtual Zoom meet-up) along with an annual Mom Prom and Casino Summit. As it turns out, this group is filled with badass, strong, intelligent, generous and amazing women and the group provides a place to share experiences and feelings guilt free and without judgement. I am grateful to be a part of it and think all moms deserve to find a group like this one.  

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