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"Porch-Ritz" Shift The Lens On Social Distancing

Lucy Gellman | March 20th, 2020

Culture & Community  |  Photography  |  Arts & Culture  |  Visual Arts  |  COVID-19

 

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Chris Randall with Teresa Joseph. Randall uses a telephoto lens, which allows him to shoot from 15 feet away. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Chris Randall leaned out of the passenger side of his car, a viewfinder and huge lens fixed over his face. Fifteen feet away, postal worker Mitchell Daniels looked up from a Lawrence Street porch and grinned. He dropped the letters in the mailbox and jogged down the steps. Back in the car, Randall snapped photos with a methodical click. The camera purred and chattered.

For the few people on the block—all standing at least six feet from each other—it may have been the first sign of human life they’d heard all day.

Randall has launched New Haven Porch-ritz, a documentary series of New Haveners seen from their porches in a time of social distancing. As much of the city takes its meetings, performances, school and extracurricular lessons, and small business online, Randall is using the time to connect with residents at a safe distance—and remind them of how connected they still are to each other and to the city around them.

Portraits from the series will be posted on I Love New Haven, which Randall co-founded with photographer Jeffrey Kerekes in 2012. He said that all of the images will appear in black and white. He has stuck with porches not only for their convenience, but for their position as gathering spaces that are now largely empty.

“I was at home and going stir crazy,” he said Wednesday, on his first day of shooting around town. “I was not doing well on my own. And when I go out and work, I feel so much better. I’m amazed … like, the moment I decided to do it, I felt better.”

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 Valerie Rogotzke and Jessy Griz. Chris Randall Photo.  

The idea for the series came to Randall earlier this week, after watching his income stream dry up by the week, then by the month. As a professional photographer, Randall relies on his craft as his livelihood. He and his partner, Teresa Joseph, run The Notorious P.I.C. out of their home in New Haven.

It's a story that artists have been telling some version of across the country. He had “a strong” and financially sound January and February. The year was shaping up to be a good one economically. There were weddings, parties, and private events on the horizon. And then, everything came to a screeching halt.

“There’s a lot of fear,” he said. “The first fear is health. Am I and my family and our community going to be okay? And then the second fear is financial.”

At home, Randall could feel the anxiety of COVID-19 setting in. So he decided to work through it—for free. Just hours after posting a note about the project on social media, over 70 people had signed up using a Google Doc.

That was Tuesday afternoon. By Wednesday, the number had exceeded 81 (it is now over 100). With addresses in hand and Joseph at the wheel, he set out to photograph. 

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Tracy George, director of the Yale Well Initiative and the Good Life Center at Yale University, balanced on the railings of her porch. Chris Randall Photo. 

As Randall photographed Wednesday, he said he could feel himself relax for the first time in days. On Edgewood Avenue, he pulled up to a home with a banner that read “Beloved NHV, Hang In There!” waving just slightly with the breeze as a sort of hello.

Beneath its neat lettering, the five members of the Armstrong-Crumlish family posed shoulder-to-shoulder, their dog safely in the middle of the group.

In Science Park, he was unexpectedly serenaded by Valerie Rogotzke and Jessy Griz from the second story of a multi-family home. In East Rock, he pulled over to photograph psychiatry professor Becca Miller, and watched as she pulled her young daughter in close and busted out a huge smile.

Tracy George, director of the Yale Well Initiative and the Good Life Center at Yale University, balanced on the railings of her porch.

"These are normal people, trying to have normal experiences, in totally unprecedented times," he said Wednesday, shooting from a distance in East Rock. "I have no idea the next time I'm going to make money, period. But I do know we're all in this together."

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Daniels: Love conquers all. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

On Lawrence Street, Daniels made an unexpected Porch-ritz appearance while dropping off the mail. He said he isn’t yet worried about the pandemic and is certain that Americans will get through it together.

“Love conquers all,” he said before heading on to the next house.

As they await the portraits, several New Haveners have already said the project has made them feel calmer and more connected. Babz Rawls-Ivy, who Randall photographed on Thursday, praised the photographer for helping break through the anxiety that she’s been feeling.

In months past, her Ivy Street porch has been a hotspot for social gatherings and happy hours with large groups of friends. She has “porching” parties that go late into the night. Now, she’s the only one who sits out there.

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Babz Rawls-Ivy on her porch. Chris Randall Photo. 

“I loved Chris Randall’s drive-by photoshoot,” she said. “I went glam-on-the-porch! What a lovely way to capture community! And to feel connected. He’s a photographer. This was a great way for him to get out of the house, bring some joy to folks, and capture this moment for history.”

Porch-Ritz by Chris Randall will be posted on I Love New Haven starting next week. To sign up for a slot, click here. The project is free, but Randall is accepting donations via Venmo at @christopaste.