Thursday, June 11, 2020

Photographers capture people on their porches in East Somerville

If you look closely at even the most banal of pictures, you will find  a plethora of clues about the people in them.   You should look at the body language, the appointment of the subjects, look into their eyes, note the topography of their faces. In these troubled times, East Somerville Main Streets has an innovative project that catches people on their porches-- giving us a big picture of our neighbors and friends--in some ways a break from the isolation we are experiencing.

I had the chance to catch up with this band of photographers via the internet...

What was the germ of the idea for the project?

The idea came from East Somerville Main Street Board President Devon Moos, "I started doing them as a way to help families, roommates, or individuals document the moment in time during the start of the COVID crisis, and initially, I started taking photos of friends first.  I really feel like documentation is important, and if you don't have someone taking the photo, you just have the memory to look back on.  Doing something creative also was a good distraction for me while everything felt overwhelming, and it was a nice break from working full time and gave me a chance to go on walks.  I realized we could use the funds raised to give back to the local businesses, and that seemed like a win all around.  The goal is to use the funds raised to purchase PPE - gloves, masks, and sanitizer, to give to the businesses, which we are working on sourcing."

Why were porches chosen as the setting?
 I think people wanted to document this weird time in their lives where people were stuck at home for three months.  I like that we've been including photos that have folks wearing their masks.  It's capturing a moment of history while also bringing some much needed joy to the neighborhood.  When we post the pictures online, it's nice to see the faces of our friends and neighbors that we haven't been able to interact with for so long.  

According to Devon, "Other photographers have been taking photos on porches, but it doesn't seem like a lot in Somerville.  I liked that most people aren't wearing shoes, and are generally comfortable, while I am able to maintain my social distance.  I have primarily been using a wide angle lens, so I can stand further back from families to ensure safety.  It's a nice extension of home, and people are on their porches more that the weather is warmer, which is nice."

Tell me a bit about the photographers involved?

Devon Moos is the Board President of East Somerville Main Streets, and primarily takes photos of family and friends for fun.  She also is usually our photographer for the Halloween Block Party family photos, which are always adorable.

The project was Devon's idea initially, but Devon & Jen (director of ESMS) asked Scott Istvan to help out with requests outside of walking distance of East Somerville because he likes to bike. Scott Is an East Somerville resident, and has been an amateur photographer since 2010 when he got his first DSLR camera. Scott is a web developer by trade, and is also currently working with the Economic Development Division to help local businesses update their websites.

Jen Atwood, director of ESMS has only done a couple of the portraits, so I guess I am a back-up photographer.  I am also an amateur and usually focus on nature photography so it's been fun to try my hand at doing portraits.  Like Devon, I find that doing something creative helps me process that feeling of being overwhelmed and instead focus on the moment.  I think the portraits have a positive impact on their own, but it's also been a successful fundraiser to help get needed supplies into the community, so even more of a win-win.

What have been the reactions from participants?

I was a bit surprised when so many people not only participated, but also ended up donating as a result.  It's really highlighted how amazingly supportive the residents of Somerville are of their community.

From Devon, "I think that people are excited to have a visitor who is stopping by safely, and that they know is capturing images that they'll be able to keep.  I also think it's been nice to make connections with community members who we don't know and help connect people and build bonds during a time when we otherwise wouldn't get that opportunity."

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