As Canadians battle the pandemic by staying home and distant, more and more are participating in “porchraits” — standing on their doorstep, porch or driveway to have a family photo taken by a professional photographer.
In return, the photographers ask the families to donate to a charitable organization. One Toronto photographer said he’s already raised $ 4,000 for food banks and hospitals.
But now the Professional Photographers of Canada is telling shutterbugs to snap out of it and step away from the sidewalk.
“I understand that photographers are suddenly cut off from most ‘in real life’ social contact and thus their clients; but this type of photography is not a necessary interaction, nor is it an essential service,” said association chairperson Louise Vessey in an April 10 statement.
“Although most do it with the very best of intentions, it still leaves room open for mistakes that could potentially cost lives.”
The risk of spreading COVID-19 by ringing a doorbell, or passing someone on the street, outweighs the benefit, Vessey added in the statement.
Not everyone agrees with the recommendation.
Jonny Micay, a Toronto-based photographer, said he’s taken portraits of about 45 families and raised $ 4,000 for various charitable organizations. He’s not involved in the distribution of the funds — he takes the photos, families make a donation and send him a receipt. He lets them choose the organization but suggests a food bank or hospital.
“It’s more of an honour system,” he said.
Micay said he uses his 105-millimetre lens to take photos from his car or the sidewalk and that he hadn’t heard the Professional Photographers of Canada recommendation to stop. But he added he wasn’t going to end the photo shoots; he said he had about 15 families lined up for photos on April 11.
“In terms of the actual risks, I think going to the grocery store is far riskier than what we’re doing,” he said, adding that he’s only received positive feedback on social media.
He said he’s been careful to respect social distancing guidelines and doesn’t see the issue with shooting a photo of someone when he’s much further than two metres away.
He said there’s been a couple times when the subjects insisted on handing him a tip, which he physically accepted, then regretted.
“After that, I was like, ‘Oh shoot that was maybe not great’. But other than that it’s usually been about a 10-foot distance,” Micay said.
Other photographers have had different experiences. Jennifer Blake, based in Oromocto, N.B., said she photographed about 30 or 40 families before being discouraged by online vitriol.
“I think my main thing is that people were really mean about it. People would post in groups just blasting these photographers and talking about how irresponsible they are for doing this,” she said.
“That kind of bothered me. Because I was like, as of right now we’re not breaking any rules, we’re just trying to do something good and making people happy.”
She eventually stopped offering the sessions not because of the online talk, but because it was a lot of work and time. She doesn’t regret it, but appreciates where the Professional Photographers of Canada is coming from.
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“I kind of agree. It’s been a few weeks since I did it, and things have changed a lot … I don’t think it’s a bad thing to say ‘We’ve done good, we’ve done this for people, let’s take a break and focus on staying home.’ ”
Buzz Bishop, a radio host in Calgary, had a local photographer take his family’s portrait, and is a supporter of the idea.
“They’re taking a bad situation and making it bright … Not only is it raising money for charities, it’s supporting out-of-work photographers and it’s bringing positivity to everybody’s lives,” he said.
Bishop believes it would have been more effective for the Professional Photographers of Canada to outline best practices for health and safety, instead of just telling people to not take porchraits.
“I think what they could have done is recognize this is bringing joy and positivity to people, and say ‘We would like to underline these safety measures that should be taken.’”