As COVID-19 has interrupted daily life, people from every profession have had to figure out ways to be productive — and photographers are no exception. Each week, we’ll share stories from our members about how they’re staying mentally and technically sharp during the pandemic. Welcome to “During COVID-19.” And remember: we’re all in this together.
By and large, humans are social creatures. Sure, some folks are introverts to the point where this lockdown doesn’t affect them as much, but most of us need to get out and interact with other human beings. With social distancing rules in effect, the basic-yet-intimate things we took for granted — getting a drink, shooting hoops, hugging people — have temporarily fallen by the wayside, and contact via social media only does so much. Which brings up a very 2020 question: how do we converse and bond with our neighbors while still upholding pandemic etiquette? New Englander Josh Behan offers an idea through his recent, dad-joke-titled personal project “Front Porchrait.”
I live in Westerly, Rhode Island, a small coastal community that is quiet in the winter and crazy in the summer. We bought our house 10 years ago, but have lived in the community for most of our lives. These shoots have been taking place all over Rhode Island and into Connecticut as well.
Like with the rest of us, March was the month where it slowly dawned upon Josh that he was going to have some serious free time. After a pleasant stroll through the neighborhood one night with his family, the “Porchrait” idea started to crystallize.
It was Thursday, March 19, right when the pandemic was starting to get very, very real for the country. Several shoots were either being postponed or cancelled, and it was becoming painfully clear that I was about to have a lot of free time. I was out for a walk with my wife and our two young kids, and we walked by a house down the street with a really cool front porch that I’ve always liked. I thought it would be cool to photograph the family on their porch (I still haven’t photographed that specific family/porch, but it was the inspiration).
I started to think more about it, and how it could be done while following social distancing guidelines. That night, I posted on Facebook and Instagram to describe what I wanted to do using some ‘people on/near the porch’ photos I had shot for a healthcare campaign a few years ago. I told people that I didn’t want to be paid for it, but asked that they continue to support local businesses in any way they could (takeout food, buying gift cards, etc.).
As you might imagine, Josh started locally and since has worked his way through Westerly and beyond. Once he posted the “beta test” shot on his social media accounts, he knew he had a winner.
The first photo was of Vin, a 93-year-old man who lives down the road. His granddaughter/neighbor recommended that I shoot him for the project, and he was perfect!
I knew there was something there as soon as I posted the idea to social media, and got a very positive response. That feeling was confirmed after shooting the first few, and realizing that I needed this as much as anyone else. It has been so good to get out and see and talk to real people — at a safe social distance, of course.
One of the things we’ve touched on in our coronavirus-related posts is the silver lining the quarantine provides: getting to spend a ton of time with family. The same holds true for Josh, whose oldest child has been tagging along — and picking up a nice allowance along the way.
I’ve been bringing my son (Eli, age 7) along as my assistant, and paying him $5 per shoot. For people that have insisted on paying me, I’ve been asking them to chip in for my little assistant’s fee, and the rest I’m using for gas money to get around to these.
When I asked Josh about the reaction to the work and what specifically stood out, he mentioned that his images have helped other people see how everyone else is coping. This is especially true with regards to people who see similar family dynamics to theirs in Josh’s work, like households with really young children. It serves as a friendly reminder that we’re all experiencing this thing as one.
One of the families had a 5-week-old baby, and the mother talked about how this was not how she was expecting to spend her maternity leave. Someone commented on her photo that she was in the exact situation, and reading about someone else’s experience was very helpful.
There have been several people making comments to that effect, that it’s helpful to read everyone’s thoughts on how this pandemic is affecting them. For me, it really reaffirms that we’re all in this together, and will get through this together.
See more of Josh’s work at joshbehanphoto.com.
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