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Photographers — many of whom have lost work as bookings to shoot weddings, births and other special moments have been canceled in the wake of new social distancing guidelines — are using their skills to give back during the coronavirus pandemic.
The brainchild of photographer Cara Soulia and marketing consultant Kristen Collins, the Front Steps Project kicked off on March 17 in Needham, Mass., where Soulia and two other photographers began documenting local families in self-isolation. In accordance with social distancing protocol, families pose from their front steps and porches or even behind windows and glass doors, while photographers keep their distance by standing at least six feet away, take some snaps, then leave after a few minutes. No money is exchanged, but families who take part are asked to make a charitable donation. (In Needham, more than $18,000 has been raised for Soulia and Collins’s charity of choice, the Needham Community Council.)
Demand for the shoots has skyrocketed — Collins tells Yahoo Lifestyle that they’ve received more than 550 requests from families in Needham alone — and now dozens of photographers around the country are taking on the cause in their own cities.
“We are amazed and overwhelmed, in a good way, by the response,” Collins says. “We never, ever imagined that our little idea would be such a hit at this level. “Families love having someone fun show up during the day, kiddos get excited for stuff like this and even the pets are in it. People are telling us they love the reason to get up, showered, dressed and in the fresh air.”
Collins says the photographers taking part — which she estimates to be around 200, with about 3,200 tagged with #TheFrontStepsProject on Instagram — are also benefiting from finding a “way to give back during this horrible time.”
She adds that both parties seem to relish making a connection during a time of isolation.
“When I showed up at this family’s house, they all came out, and the 6-year-old boy yelled, ‘It's my birthday, I'm 6 today!’ I shouted back, ‘Well, we better document this special day for you!’”
Brooklyn-based photographer Adina Lerner says the shoots have given her a “new purpose as a photographer and community member” after having to cancel gigs due to quarantines.
“I am a lifestyle and documentary photographer, and the documentarian in me wants to photograph anything and everything that helps to tell the story of Brooklyn right now,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Photos of these families are special. Those of us who aren't on the front lines are all at home, cocooned with our families, trying to make everything that has to be done work out.”
Like other photographers involved, Lerner takes special precautions for the shoots, from agreeing on a precise arrival time to maintaining a safe distance. She also lets families — who fill out a form requesting a shoot — make a donation to the charity of their choice.
“They come out, we wave hello and talk and laugh from afar!” Lerner says. “When we're done (five minutes later), we wave goodbye. They'll get a digital copy of their photo from me within 24 hours.”
Collins says the project is doing more than just giving photographers and isolated families a little respite. The resulting images capture a somewhat ordinary moment — a family at their home — during a truly surreal time.
“We didn't realize it when we started, but we know it for sure now — these images have the potential to stay in families for generations, as part of history,” she says. “No one will forget the COVID pandemic that stopped the world. I hope when families look back they get to look back with memories of how they coped during this time. All of our memories will be different, though, and since we don't know how and when this will end, we have no idea what they will be.”
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