(Posted April 30, 2020)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Daily briefings from the governor. Stay at home orders. Job worries. Safety concerns.
It’s heavy stuff. So, when something light comes along–something that makes you smile and is, in fact, all about smiles and letting loose a little–it’s welcome relief.
Enter the Front Porch Project. Across the nation, photographers are snapping photos of families gathered outside their front doors. Some families are striking traditional poses; others are going the comedic route. All are coming away with portraits from a time in history they will never forget.
“What we’ve enjoyed most is people showing who they are or who they’ve been during quarantine,” said Jenna Webster, who with her husband, Mickey, jumped on the Front Porch bandwagon.
Jenna and Mickey run Webster Photographics in London. They got involved in the pandemic portrait project at the urging of fellow London resident Aundrea Robinson.
“Friends in my hometown were doing it, so I asked the Websters about doing it here,” Robinson said.
Jenna ran it by London Mayor Patrick Closser, who was all for it, especially when he found out that all proceeds were going to HELP House, a community outreach center in London that provides food, clothing and other services to families in need. The Websters collected no fees for themselves, only requesting donations for HELP House from the families who participated and anyone else who wanted to pitch in.
“I thought this was such a great idea to have a little fun, from a safe distance, and be able to have a professional picture to remember these unprecedented times,” said Closser, who helped to promote the project on social media.
It took off. Between April 24 and April 27, the Websters snapped front porch portraits of nearly 90 London families and raised nearly $2,000 for HELP House.
“We set up time slots. Our 11-year-old son was the light man, I was the chauffeur, and my husband was the photographer. Everything was done at a distance using a long lens,” Jenna said.
At each house, the Websters took a traditional shot and/or a silly shot, depending on what each family had in mind.
Robinson and her family went with a traditional pose for their first shot, then she and her husband, Pete, surprised their children–Codie, 14, Barleigh, 12, and Gracie, 9–for the second shot, covering them in Silly String they pulled from their back pockets.
“It was a great way to get away from the reality of what is going on. We’re all at home; might as well make the most of it,” Robinson said.
The Edleys went with two different themes for their portraits. In the first one, they wore protective masks with superhero themes. In the second, they conveyed what they were missing during quarantine. Brannon Edley, an offensive coach for the London High School football team and the school’s freshman basketball coach, held a sign that read, “I miss sports.” His wife, Tia, held wine and a sign that read, “I miss my alone time.” Their three older children–Mya, 9, Ava, 8, and Willow, 6–are involved in sports, so they wore their uniforms. The youngest, B.J., 2, dressed as Captain America holding a football.
“We signed up because the proceeds were going to the food pantry, and we wanted to help with that,” said Tia, a nurse in the labor and delivery department at Madison Health. “And this is something we will be remembering for the rest of our lives and a fun way to remember it.”
Amy Moffett signed up for a Front Porch session for many reasons.
“I thought it was a neat idea for a good cause, and we were overdue to take a family picture anyway,” she said. “We didn’t get creative like a lot of the other families. We just went pretty traditional. We’ve been wearing a lot of sweatpants, so it was nice to put on nice clothes for a change and stand out in the nice weather.”
The photo session was quick and easy, Moffett said. She and her husband, Tom, and children, Lainey, 8, and Sully, 4, came away with that overdue family picture, as well as a sense of being part of a community coming together for something positive.
“This will be a nice keepsake from a time that hasn’t been all bad. There have been silver linings, like more time together as a family… and neighbors helping each other,” said Moffett, who traded her husband’s famous lasagna for some of her neighbor’s paper towels and thanked another neighbor for bread by giving her jelly.
“I think everyone in the community had a lot of fun with it,” said Jenna about the Front Porch Project. “It brought everyone out of the shell that we’ve been hunkered down in.”
She said she and Mickey were blown away by the reception the project received and the feedback they’ve gotten.
“The participation, to me, is truly amazing. It shows how great this community is,” Jenna said. “And everybody has been so appreciative, so grateful, and so willing to donate.”
Besides families, others who posed for portraits included the London Police Department, London Fire Department, and the staff at Union Street Salon.
The Websters collected money for HELP House through May 1. Many of the photos they took can be viewed on their Facebook page at “Webster Photographics LLC.”