It started with a Facebook message. A friend sent me a post about a photographer in Tennessee who spent an afternoon photographing her neighbors who were locked down. He suggested it would be a good project for Frenchtown.

I thought it was a great idea and jumped on it, naming it The Porch Portrait Project. The project ran for about a week and 60 families took part, dogs included (and a few cats).

The first step (after coming up with a clever name) was to set up a webpage (https://brokawphotography.com/porch-portraits/) explaining the project and giving people a way to indicate they wanted to be part it. Participation was free and the webpage included a PayPal button so people could donate to support the project and the local food pantry.

After setting up the webpage I headed over to the Frenchtown Facebook Group to announce the project. It was warmly received and people started registering to be photographed.

I grouped people by general locations and gave them a 30 minute window when they could expect me to show up (kind of like the cable guys).

Everything went smoothly. I’d arrive within my predicted window and people would be ready on their porches for me to photograph them from the sidewalk or their front lawn (about 10-15 feet away). I’d coach them into a good group pose and then fire off a few shots.

Everyone was friendly, happy and totally cooperative. It was a wonderful experience being out photographing the community. After shooting I processed the photos and posted them on my website where people could download them for free. https://brokawphotography.com/porch-portrait-photos/

The response was overwhelmingly positive. Some folks had props and some simply had willing happy faces. My little project was a welcomed distraction from being locked down, even if only for a short time. (It was also a convenient way to get a quick and easy professional family photo.) People loved seeing each other’s photos and many of them shared their own photos on social media.

The Porch Portraits Project 2020 by Bill Brokaw
The Porch Portraits Project 2020 by Bill Brokaw

I wanted to keep going and going until I got a photo of everyone in Frenchtown, but with the virus lurking and more cases being reported in the area, I decided it would be best to suspend after just a few rounds of photos.

I’m still feeling pretty depressed about stopping, but caution is never a bad idea in a situation like this.

I would love to resurrect this project after the danger of the virus has passed but my guess is that people will go back to their busy lives and scheduling a large number of group photos on a single afternoon might not work out as well.

But then again, this is Frenchtown. I’m definitely willing to try again.

There is no question that these photos will represent a significant moment in everyone’s personal history. Where were you during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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