Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people are searching for ways to connect with one another despite not being able to be together in person. Many are also seeking ways to give back to their communities.
A handful of photographers are doing both in an unexpected way: 'porch portraiture,' in which they style and photograph families in front of their homes while maintaining a safe distance. These photographers have captured the social distancing experience, but also brought communities together or used their work to contribute to various causes.
Here's what 'porch portraiture' looks like for three photographers across the U.S.
Self-employed photographer and videographer Dave Puente, 36, started taking his "Porchraits" in mid-March. Puente says that he has long responded to world events through his art, so when everyone around him started social distancing amid the pandemic, his reaction was to use his photography work to check in on others to see how they were doing.
"It was part of my natural curiosity [to see] how people are doing," Puente tells CNBC Make It. "I wanted to check in on complete strangers."
Puente has traveled thousands of miles by car from his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to photograph over 200 families across the U.S. as part of his "Porchrait" series — and he's taken all of them for free. He's also managed to stay safe and work efficiently throughout the process: Puente photographs clients with a long lens, which allows him to stand 20 to 30 feet away.
When he first started shooting the series, Puente could only photograph about eight families a day. But as of March 21, he's been working with a volunteer that assists him with organizing family bookings in focused areas. Now, he's able to photograph up to 22 families in as little as four hours.
Since he started the series, other photographers have reached out to Puente to learn more about his process, including some from international locations like Spain, Brazil and Canada. "I've responded to every single one of them and given them advice on how to do it responsibly and efficiently," Puente says.
Puente has also made an impact on the families he's photographed so far. "So many people have expressed to me how wonderful it's been just having a moment to chat with somebody, having a reason to take a shower and put on makeup," he says.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Emily Hughes, 33, worked as a photo editor and digital asset manager in New York City. But because she hasn't been able to work onsite at either position since March, Hughes returned to her hometown of Rogers, Arkansas.
While scrolling through Facebook, Hughes noticed that some of her friends were posting photos of themselves posed on their porches and it caught her interest. She wanted to bring the same type of portraiture experience to Northwest Arkansas. Hughes also hoped to use the project to raise funds for her local food bank, Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, which has been struggling during the pandemic.
She posted on Facebook to see if anyone nearby would want to make a donation in exchange for a portrait. In just one day, she reached $500 in donations. "I've been taking pictures since I was 12 years old and I never thought that I'd be able to use it to raise money for something like this," Hughes says.
Hughes named her project "Porchtraits" and as of May 6, she's raised over $2,500 and photographed more than 45 families her local area. But even if families can't afford to make a donation, she'll still photograph them.
"It helps them, it helps the food bank and it helps me feel like I can contribute something," Hughes says.
Hughes makes sure to keep herself and her clients safe by by using a long lens and wearing a mask. Because all of her clients are local, she's able to reach each one by car. "We won't have any physical contact," she says.
Hughes has received positive feedback on her portraits and is working directly with the food bank to generate more support for its Covid-19 fund. "The response has been so gracious," she says. "I can't wait to see where it goes."
Elizabeth Dranitzke, 52, has been self-employed as a photographer for 19 years. But due to the pandemic, the Washington, D.C. resident hasn't been able to work in her studio since March. In response, Dranitzke started pursuing photography in a new way with her "Porchtraits" project, inspired in part by the work of other photographers.
Through "Porchtraits," Dranitzke takes long distance portraits of families in the D.C. area and asks that the families she photographs make a donation to organizations like Serve Your City, a nonprofit that provides support to underprivileged D.C. students. Amid the pandemic, Serve Your City has been delivering food and supplies to families, and is working to get students technology and internet access so that they can participate in online classes.
"People have been super supportive and appreciative," Dranitzke says. "We know we all feel the same way; we want to help, but we don't know what to do."
To stay safe, Dranitzke maintains proper distance between herself and the clients she photographs. She uses a zoom lens on her camera and makes sure to wear a mask.
Dranitzke captures a pair of renters on her block. Source: ELIZABETH DRANITZKE
As of May 6, Dranitzke has raised over $2,900. Her work has evolved into something that's allowed her to grow closer to those in her neighborhood as well. Taking "Porchtraits" has "been a really vital way for me to stay connected to the community," she says. "I've gotten to know people more."
One of those people is local mail carrier Ricardo Adams, whose route has taken him past Dranitzke's block for over a decade. Because of the pandemic, Dranitzke finally got a chance to speak with him and learned that he's a resident of her community too. She asked him if she could take his photo someday.
Only a few days later, she received a message from Adams, letting her know that he was coming to her block.
Adams pulls up for Dranitzke to snap a few shots. Source: ELIZABETH DRANITZKE
"I jumped up, barefoot, [and] ran out with my camera into the street!" Dranitzke says. "He literally pulled his truck up in front of my house. I ran outside, we photographed for five, 10 minutes and he drove off."
When Dranitzke posted the photo on Instagram, she received a lot of comments from friends and family of Adams, as well as community members, who all rejoiced to recognize him there.
Interactions like this create a positive ripple effect, Dranitzke says. Her project has turned into "a way to connect with the people on your block, the people in your neighborhood; the people that make your neighborhood what it is and make my neighborhood what it is."