I got involved to busy my hands. The project filled my heart.
In the early days of COVID-19 lockdowns, two photographers in Boston began photographing families sheltering in place on their front steps. Instead of payment, participating families donated to a local organization that was helping mitigate the crisis. The response was so great that they recruited other photographers and the idea spread. When I discovered The Front Steps Project I decided to document my own neighborhood of Truro in Annandale, VA, a suburb of Washington, DC. This was around the end of March. I was asked to come to other neighborhoods but decided to stop photographing once stay at home orders were given by the Governor. I still wonder if I should have.
I went out twice in those two weeks and spent 5 minutes or less with each family. Instead of choosing the org myself, I asked each family to choose. I also asked participants if they had advice to share. Each org chosen revealed something about that family. The stories they told me were both relatable and profound addressing boredom, parenting, rites of passage, finding grace, working in healthcare, adopting new puppies, international concerns, generational connection and the fear of a losing someone close who was sick. People brought props, costumes, humor, honesty and hope to their portraits.
Time, distance and lighting were challenges. Oddly I found these perimeters somewhat liberating, I worked with knee jerk visual reactions. Some participants were friends, others were neighbors I was meeting for the first time. There was no waiting for a child’s mood to change, no warm up period. If kids were riding bikes when I pulled up, kids were on bikes in the pics. It was what it was.
These experiences only scratch the surface of what this has been like in American neighborhoods. Most families living in mine are white, heterosexual and at the age of raising young children. Because this project took place predominantly in neighborhoods demographically akin to mine, there are many American experiences left out of this visual record and therefore many stories about sheltering that have not been captured. I’m acknowledging this because its important and because it will change how I approach documentary projects going forward. I hope to collaborate in this way again.
Here’s the first wave. If you would like to read corresponding stories you’ll find these photos in my feed on Instagram @melzwphotog. To see more capture from around the country, follow #thefrontstepsproject. I am so deeply grateful to the families who chose to participate and to be seen while helping others. And to the many photogs who invented and collaborated to raise funds, spirits and awareness – I have loved watching the work. Let’s do this again, collective creativity is a force.
Stay tuned for wave #2 here or follow me on IG as I share each family.