Photographers snap free ‘Front Portraits’ to capture life during COVID-19 in Austin

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In this time of social distancing, it’s easy to feel shut in, shut out, and just plain shuttered.

Two local photographers are working to capture life during this shared moment with a new project they’re calling “Front Portraits.” Hundreds of families have signed up to have their pictures taken in front of their houses, while Chris Lammert and Keelyn Costello stay safely on the street.

“It started as a really small idea and then kind of took off,” Costello said.

The Jordan family poses for a Front Portrait shortly before dad deployed to help with the Air Force’s COVID-19 response. (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lammert and Keelyn Costello)

The roommates and collaborators came up with the idea while walking around their south Austin neighborhood. Both lost their scheduled photography gigs when the city started locking down and events started canceling, and the new project offers a much-needed creative outlet.

“We’re out here trying to capture just this moment in time,” Lammert said.

The photo sessions are free for families, as is one photo download. Additional downloads or prints come at a price, but Lammert and Costello say they’re not doing it to make money.

“The purpose is basically to give somebody a moment, a memory,” Lammert said. Added Costello: “I think it’ll be really special for them. That’s at least what we’re hoping is that it’s a good memory for them to have, even if it was just for 10 minutes.”

About 300 families signed up for portraits the first day, they said, and since then another 700 have joined a waiting list. They’re getting through them as fast as they can, scheduling upwards of 20 shoot a day.

Making connections

Erin Dooley and Jeremy Glode pose with Franklin, 2, and Maxwell, 7 months, on Friday, April 17, 2020. (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lammert and Keelyn Costello)

The photo project offers a glimpse into how individual families are dealing with isolation, but they also point to the ways in which the community is in this together.

Erin Dooley is dealing with an upheaval in her work. A psychiatrist, she’s had to transfer all of her sessions to virtual visits. “So that’s been a big transition for me,” she said, “but also for the patients.”

Posing on her front porch with her husband, Jeremy Glode, and their two kids, Franklin and Maxwell, Dooley said she wanted to sit for the portrait to create a positive memory they can look back on together.

“I thought it was such a cool idea to have sort of this really weird, unprecedented time documented,” she said. It’s “a good way to remember something scary and awful.”

“We all have this particular struggle,” Lammert said. “We’re all stuck at home; we’re all going through some version of something.”

Max and Abbey show off some moves on their front porch. (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lammert and Keelyn Costello)

Whether it’s a family unable to visit elderly relatives, saying goodbye to dad before he deploys to the front lines of the Air Force’s fight against the coronavirus, or simply making the best of their time together, the photos draw parallels.

The photographers shot portraits of two college seniors whose graduation is postponed, couples celebrating births while isolated from their extended families, laid off service workers, professional dancers without gigs.

“Some people are having fun with it, some people are struggling,” Lammert said.

‘You can still connect with people’

Sarah Wolf and Nick Goodin are both able to work from home during the stay-at-home orders, but even that has posed some challenges for the couple.

“Working the conference call schedules has been interesting,” Goodin said. “We’re not natural chefs in the kitchen, and so we’ve really had to get creative with recipes,” Wolf added.

While they’ve appreciated spending more time together with their dog, Rufus, they both miss the social connections they value in Austin’s entertainment scene. They used their photo shoot to create some of the fun they’ve been missing; Goodin dressed up in a shark costume and Wolf played the victim.

“We’re trying to find fun in the day to day,” Wolf said.

Nick Goodin attacks Sarah Wolf outside their south Austin home on Friday, April 17, 2020. (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lammert and Keelyn Costello)

They’re making the best of their time in isolation, and they’re finding some upsides they didn’t expect. “We’ve gotten to know a lot of our neighbors better than we have, and we’ve been here for several years,” Wolf said. “You can still connect with people, you just have to stay six feet or further away.”

Dooley and Glode are seeing the same community develop. “In a lot of ways, this neighborhood has become more of a neighborhood,” Glode said. “There’s a lot more people with their kids walking around, saying hello to each other. And that hasn’t been like that.”

“And we can still have that” when the orders are lifted, he added, “maybe a stronger neighborhood and a stronger community, too.”

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