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Porch portraits: Families pose during a pandemic

"For the few minutes it takes to complete each shoot, spirits are lifted and attention averted, on both sides of the camera," one photographer said of the project.
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Families cooped up in their homes want something to do. Photographers want to take pictures.

From those twin desires is born a practice popping up around the country and across the border in Canada that some call "porch portraits."

People step outside their homes to pose. Photographers, keeping social distance, take photos.

Natriya Rampey said that days before the governor in her home state of Virginia issued a stay-at-home order last month to slow the spread of the coronavirus, she was already busy postponing her scheduled photo shoots.

Then she saw an article about a photographer in the northeast who was taking portraits of people posing on their porches. Rampey quickly decided to put her own spin on it.

She would take photos — at a safe distance — but in black-and-white and with one requirement: those she photographed would have to make and display a sign with a humorous or inspirational message.

Photographer Natriya Rampey with her family in Leesburg, Va.
Photographer Natriya Rampey with her family in Leesburg, Va.Natriya Rampey

"As a photographer, you have the itch. You want to capture or document history in some way," Rampey said. She also wanted to let her community know that they had her support during a pandemic that has halted normal life.

She launched a Facebook group titled, "Porch photography: In it together," where she offered her services to people in her town of Leesburg, about 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. She has since photographed several dozen families. Rampey uploads the images in the Facebook group — which has almost 600 members — and includes the hashtag #InItTogether in each caption.

At the photo shoots, "people are like, 'This is the first time I've done my hair or makeup or put a bra on,'" Rampey said during a phone interview Thursday. "Families are getting together to make the posters."

One woman, photographed by Rampey with her two young daughters, held up a sign that read: "He went to work so you should #stayhome," while one of the girls displays a photo of their dad and the other a fireman's hat.

Rampey does not charge for the portraits. "I just didn't feel like I wanted to advertise to make money during this time when everybody is going through something this severe," she said.

That hasn't stopped people from giving her money. Rampey said she has collected a little over $1,500, all of which she plans to donate to three food banks in northern Virginia.

The Roderick family on their porch in Leesburg, Va.
The Roderick family on their porch in Leesburg, Va.Natriya Rampey

Among her subjects is Paige Roderick, her husband, Jeff, and their children, Mila, Jasper, Lex and Luka, who range in age from 8 to 15. The family wore animal onesies in some of the photos taken by Rampey. Their dog Blaze dressed as himself in the family photo which features a sign with the message: "embrace the suck" and the hashtag #InItTogether.

"Even though it is a sucky situation, just embrace it and make the most of it," Paige Roderick said.

She didn't realize when she was invited to participate in the project that it would explode as it has.

"After it was all said and done, I looked at my kids and said, 'We don't know when this is going to end but when we can get dressed up and let people know we are all in this together, that's pretty cool,'" Paige Roderick said. "That's one of the things we're trying to instill in our children: Let's just have fun where we can."

Kim Mortimer, 53, said the popularity of porch portraits during the pandemic is also spreading in Canada where she lives.

"Initially, a friend shared a link to a story about another Alberta photographer capturing front porch images, so I reached out to the photographer and asked if he’d be OK with me introducing the same project in Red Deer," she said. "I hadn’t realized, yet, how many photographers were already engaged with porch portraits."

Mortimer said she has done about 20 portraits so far in her hometown of Alberta and in surrounding communities by appointment.

"If there has been interest in another town, I have scheduled and promoted my visits for a single date," she said. "Clients are excited when they book, grateful for the experience and thrilled with their photos."

The project has been a welcome distraction from her own worries, Mortimer said.

The Allen family in Erie, Colo.
The Allen family in Erie, Colo.Analise Lawson

"For the few minutes it takes to complete each shoot, spirits are lifted and attention averted, on both sides of the camera," she said. "Capturing memories during a time when families are together has been an absolute pleasure."

Analise Lawson, 26, of Erie, Colorado, is a professional family and wedding photographer. She first learned of what she describes as the "porch project" through social media. She invited people to schedule to have their photo taken in an announcement on her professional Facebook page.

"Who needs a good laugh?! Crazy times we are in," the announcement read. "I am grateful for all those who have signed up for my #PorchProject2020. It has blown up!!! Thank you all for keeping me busy & sane."

"Once I knew that people in Erie would enjoy having theirs done, I decided to do them," she said.

A family portrait near Erie would cost $120-$250, Lawson said. She is doing them for free.

Lawson said she has decided to donate any earnings to Erie Uplink, a nonprofit that feeds children and families in need.

"I have a 1 1/2-year-old and a one-month-old and we get stir crazy being inside all day," Lawson said. "I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for us to get out within the guidelines of the stay-at-home order and walk around our town getting cute photos of other families for their memories during this time."

In the last week, she has photographed more than 90 families. Lawson said she eventually hopes to create a book of the images that she can sell.

"I always take the photos from the sidewalk or grass yard in front of the home," Lawson said. "We find nice spots in front of the house — usually the porch — and I snap a few photos."

Lawson has found comfort behind the camera.

"I am able to still create, do it for a good cause and bring some joy during a dark time," she said. "I feel really lucky to be able to use my talent right now."

And she says she is even learning through the lens.

"I have taken away the fact that we are all struggling in some way," Lawson said. "But we are all doing our best to make the best out of the situation."