Two weeks ago, Eze Amos was “bored as hell.”
Usually the photographer is running around Charlottesville at all hours, snapping candid shots of everyday life in the city—buskers, beer drinkers, sidewalk chalkers, protesters—shooting weddings, or completing assignments for this newspaper.
But with everyone staying home for social distancing, Amos and many other photographers have lost their paid gigs and the chance to work on their passion projects.
While scrolling through his phone, Amos read an article about Cara Soulia, a Needham, Massachusetts, family photographer who, in this time of quarantine, began taking pictures of families in front of their homes for a series she calls #TheFrontStepsProject.
Soulia’s work energized Amos—he couldn’t sleep that night. He just had to do this in Charlottesville, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone.
Since then, Amos and four other photographers—Tom Daly, Kristen Finn, John Robinson, and Sarah Cramer Shields—have photographed more than 200 families and individuals outside their Charlottesville-area homes for Cville Porch Portraits (@cvilleporchraits on Instagram).
(Soulia’s work also inspired local photographer Robert Radifera, who launched a similar project to benefit the Charlottesville Community Foundation.)
Amos isn’t bored anymore, and he’s not likely to be any time soon: About two dozen requests come in every day.
There’s something uniquely lovely and intimate about making images of people outside their homes. “In photography, we often go to the pretty places, not always to the true places, or the personal spaces,” says Robinson. “Places bring something out of you, or are a reflection of what you bring in.”
Taken separately, these images say a lot about who the subjects are as individuals. Someone chose to be photographed in her cozy bathrobe and panda bear slippers. A family posed in matching, carefully handmade Easter outfits. In one photo, kids have strewn their toys about the porch; in another, someone has arranged her flower pots just so. There are grandparents using their photo to say hello to their grandchildren.
Taken together, these images say a lot about who we are as a community.
It’s as much an “act of solidarity” as it is a fundraiser, says Finn, an attempt “to create some visual representation of ‘we’re all in this together.’”
The project keeps these five photographers employed, and they’re splitting the profits 50-50 with the Charlottesville Emergency Relief Fund for Artists, established last month by The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative and the New City Arts Initiative, with some help from The FUNd at CACF. Already, the photographers have donated $5,000 to the relief fund and are on track to make another donation of the same size soon.
Folks can sign up for a portrait via email@example.com and pay what and if they can, on a sliding scale from $0 to $250. When the photographers arrive on site, they take care to maintain at least 10 feet of distance between themselves and their subjects, per CDC guidelines. “That’s what a telephoto lens is for,” says Finn with a laugh.
Finn has experienced a range of emotions during the shoots, from tearing up while talking with a woman who was recently laid off, to feeling a bit starstruck when local civil rights legend Eugene Williams contacted her for a portrait.
Whether photographing an old friend or a new acquaintance, the photographers are learning more about themselves. Robinson usually gets up close with his subjects, so the physical separation is new. For Amos, even this distance feels close—as a street photographer, he doesn’t often interact with his subjects all.
As the photographers bond with the photographed, they share these moments with the rest of the community via social media, hoping to foster a sense of connection—and some strength and comfort—despite our distance.
“I think everything that Charlottesville has been through has us hungry for resilience, and we’ve trained and built for reciprocity and resilience,” says Robinson, noting that community leaders have worked hard to build that in the wake of summer 2017. “We all learned that we need to be there for each other, and we have to…remember to be strong, but also be tender.”
With that in mind, Amos aims “to show what the community looks like,” to show the racial and ethnic and economic diversity of the Charlottesville area that is often overlooked or erased in the images media, businesses, tourism groups, and others choose to project. Sure, the fundraising matters, he says, but inclusion matters more. “We want everyone to feel like they are part of this, that they can be represented” in this project, in this place, in this moment in time. “This is for everyone.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of The FUNd at CACF, which helped provide seed money for the Charlottesville Emergency Relief Fund for Artists. We regret the error. Updated April 8, 2:37pm.