Portrait Porch Project Community Collaboration

Black and white photo shows a gallery wall full of the black and white portraits and accompanying writings of Maria Ellen Huebner's Portrait Porch Project

Maria Ellen Huebner's Portrait Porch Project is a community collaboration between the artist and her neighbors, friends, and other community leaders in Cache Valley Utah. 

 

Thanks to Jason Williams for featuring us on KVNU Talk Radio's For the People. Listen to the recording here.  

 

When the world went into lockdown in March of 2020, Maria, an adjunct professor of photography at Utah State University and instructor at Cache Arts, started taking one portrait every day. As re-opening benchmarks passed, she continued her project. She soon collected 44 portraits between April and June. Each family or individual captured in these portraits were asked to put pen to paper, or marker and crayon to paper, and detail their expressions and thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic Maria approached the Brigham City Museum of Art and History at the end of 2020 with the opportunity to host the original 44 portraits along with updated portraits of select families. 

From the artist: 

I started this project as a way to inspire students in my analog photography class at Utah State University. They thought they would start the semester using various large-format film cameras and end with developing the film in the darkroom using wet-place process. However, that all changed with the pandemic. As classes moved online, the students had to switch to capturing images digitally -- not exactly what they had signed up for. 

My original plan was to photograph seven families in seven days, but the project grew into something much, much more. After the next meeting with my students, I decided I could not stop, not until the end of the semester. This allowed me to share the images as part of our online class sessions. I hoped my students were learning something about dedication to one's ideas and that a project does not have to be as big as they might think -- it can start simply as an act of goodwill or be something just outside their door. 

My equipment and process were simple: two lenses, one Leica camera, one small stepladder, 30 minutes of time per family, and one family per day. I chose to photograph long and wide in order to show the environment of each family and illustrate how this pandemic has no borders -- everyone was dealing with the same virus as their neighbors across the street or across town. 

I made sure to photograph the world as I have always seen it: A melting pot of people with stories to tell. I'm really a street photographer, so I am used to capturing the diversity in a crowd -- groups of people with diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds all together at any given moment. I was very conscious about bringing that same sensibility to this collection of family portraits, showing a range of cultures and identities. 

On a daily basis, I fell in love with my subjects. They were so grateful and excited to see someone else in their lives, especially Olive -- my seven-year-old daughter and assistant that I was now homeschooling -- who came with me. We added a new lesson to her daily homeschooling schedule: Portrait porch photoshoots! This project gave us purpose and routine, both of which we desperately needed during the first months of the pandemic. 

In the end, I was able to give back to my community in a way that I knew how: using photography to bring people together, find a narrative, and create a dialogue -- and all in a short period of time and at a safe distance. We kept a daily rhythm going for 40 consecutive days, then moved to one family per week. In total, we photographed 44 different families living in various parts of Cache Valley. 

My hope is that as people view the images of families and read their writing, this work will continue to bring us closer to one another and show how -- though we all live and come from different places -- we have many similarities that connect us all as people.