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'Queerantine' photographer captures 'community resilience' amid crisis

Ally Schmaling says their Instagram photo series celebrates "queer personhood, chosen family" and "community resiliency" during the coronavirus pandemic.
Image: Ally Schmaling.
Ally Schmaling.Celeste Byers / for NBC News

Photographer Ally Schmaling is bringing Boston's queer community together through a single lens. Schmaling's new Instagram project, "Queerantine," is capturing the city's LGBTQ community under lockdown.

"We can live on top of each other and share all these commonalities and share all these narrative threads, and yet we're just kind of passersby," Schmaling, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, told NBC News. "So I think I imagined this project to be a seed planting in itself for future connections and community once this is over."

As the coronavirus pandemic swept Boston in April, Schmaling, 26, a wedding photographer, quickly lost gigs as clients canceled their ceremonies. Schmaling suddenly found themself out of work.

"I had that itchy feeling in the back of my brain that said it was a really pivotal moment — you should document this," they said. "And so I kicked myself out of bed, and I started this Queerantine series."

Out on the Frontline: Ally Schmaling is one of NBC Out's 2020 Pride Month honorees. To see the full list, click here.

Schmaling travels from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout Boston, documenting the lives of queer people during the new era of social distancing. Standing at a safe distance, Schmaling photographs LGBTQ couples, families and roommates together on their doorsteps. Schmaling describes the project as "celebrating queer personhood, chosen family, community resiliency throughout this whole mess."

"I wanted to capture folks in a less poised and in a more personal way and really show this beautiful sense of breadth of what queer family looks like and what love looks like," they said.

Schmaling has photographed over 45 LGBTQ households in the Boston metro area. For every family they photograph, they ask two questions: "What tiny, unexpected moments of joy have you been finding in all this mess?" and "In the context of this new social distancing, what does queer community look like to you?" Schmaling includes their subjects' responses on Instagram alongside their portraits.

"I'm a firm believer that a subject should never be divorced from their own voice and their narrative and their own agency as central to their image," they said. Schmaling said the answers they've received range from "goofy" to "mundane" to "downright profound."

The photographer has found their own joy while documenting the LGBTQ community under quarantine.

"I think we're all being confined to four walls right now," Schmaling said. "We create these microcosms where our problems are the only problems and our joys and our successes are the only successes. And so just by communicating with my neighbors in a way that feels vulnerable and feels intimate and important and profound and goofy — it makes me aware of their experience."

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