As families find themselves isolated with loved ones because of the coronavirus pandemic, tensions can run a bit high – and finding joy in moments of panic becomes harder each day.
That’s why photographer Cara Soulia and her friend Kristen Collins launched The Front Steps Project. Every day, Soulia spends hours traveling from home to home in Needham, Massachusetts, to photograph families on their front steps.
“Showing up and seeing a family, especially kids, if they are involved, so excited that you’ve arrived, just for five minutes and just for a simple photo, is really, really uplifting,” Collins, who handles the project’s planning and operations, told CNN.
“The positive energy is fueling our days and it’s why we keep going.”
Within 48 hours of starting the Front Steps Project, two other Needham photographers – Caitrin Dunphy and Topher Cox – joined the group to help capture as many family moments as possible.
Families who want to be photographed can fill out a form. After that, Collins assigns each of the three photographers around 30 families to visit and uses Google Maps to create easy routes for them.
Remembering the importance of connection
Since the project’s launch March 17, the team has received more than 325 requests from families from Needham alone.
To follow social distancing precautions, the photographers always stand at least six feet away, and spend only five minutes with the families.
While cheering people up is one of the main goals of the project, the group is also using the effort as a way to help the most vulnerable in their community.
Families getting their portraits taken are encouraged to donate to the Needham Community Council (NCC), a non-profit that supports people in Needham who have under-met health, educational or social needs. So far, the effort has raised more than $12,000 for the NCC.
“It’s certainly been a distraction from the news,” Soulia told CNN. “For the photographers, it’s been a great way to get some fresh air and say hello from afar to really friendly people who are also craving human connection.”
One of the photographer’s most memorable moments so far is when she accidentally photographed a group of people at the wrong address, which she didn’t realize until after she’d taken their photo.
The group was sitting spread out, with each pair sitting in lawn chairs they measured to make sure were at least six feet apart.
“It would have been an odd sight if you didn’t know what was going on in the world. But given the current situation, it was such a heart warming moment,” Soulia said.
“All of these families in our community are still making the effort to be together, even if it means sitting in strange groupings of lawn chairs, six feet apart. The photograph I took of these people was the most significant one I’ve taken thus far on the project.”
The beginning of a movement
Soulia, a newborn and family photographer, and Collins, a marketing and public relations consultant, are both mothers who frequently collaborate with each other.
Like many whose jobs have been jeopardized because of the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t know what would happen to their self-made businesses.
But now, this project is their work – and they are doing everything they can to support other photographers who want to do the same.
More than 250 photographers contacted the group with interest in starting their own local versions of the Front Steps Project while donating money to other organizations aiding communities in need.
“Our goal is 100% to bring our local community together and to support the NCC. Seeing this take off around the country and even to other countries is amazing,” Soulia said.
“(The photographers) decide what local organization will inspire their communities. I’ve seen some for hospitals, local businesses, animal shelters, food pantries and more.”
With so many feeling isolated or disconnected from friends, family and the rest of the world these days, something as simple as a happy photograph can help keep us going.