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Front Porch Project Documents Life in Santa Cruz During Covid-19

Santa Cruz-based photographer Amy Isacson captures life on people’s front porches

Rachel de Heras, Taj Laucher, Karsta Jensen and Coya Laucher, along with their dog Pacho. PHOTO: AMY ISACSON

One day, the Covid-19 pandemic and the weird spring of 2020 will seem like ancient history. 

And when that time comes—when a return to “normal” precipitates a look back at life during lockdown—photographer Amy Isacson’s latest project could become something to show the grandchildren.

It’s called the Front Porch Project, and it serves as a profile of a community in one place at one time.

Isacson, a Santa Cruz-based portrait/wedding/anything photographer, decided to go out early one May Saturday morning and document how her friends and neighbors in Santa Cruz County are weathering the shelter-in-place era. She had with her a master list of two dozen households who had agreed to her idea—to take photos of families on whatever constituted their front porch.

Of course, she kept her distance. “I tried to stay on the sidewalk,” she says. “And I used a telephoto lens.”

Other than social distancing, the only restriction she imposed on herself is to have her subjects in or near the front door of their home. That created a cohesion in the collection of portraits.

“Some people were dressed up. Others were in their pajamas like they’d just woken up. It really shocked me how people were. Usually when you get around people (with a camera) everybody is up and on 100%. But in this case, people were really grounded and calm. Nobody was performing.”

Isacson had put out a call on social media for people who wanted to participate, and she collected addresses that spanned the county, from deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains to Watsonville. Some of the people she shot were friends or acquaintances, but many were strangers as well. She shot families, couples, and singles at their homes, which in one case meant a houseboat. Some people posed with their dogs. At least one family brought in their goats. And not all of the households were complete.

“A handful of people were still working, in the medical profession (and other essential businesses), so in some cases, it wasn’t the complete unit,” Isacson says. 

It was all in the service of capturing a moment when everyday life has fundamentally changed.

“One friend of mine told me, ‘My husband’s hair is huge. My son’s hair is long. Mine is gray. And my daughter’s is shaved,’” says Isacson. “That about captures it.”

The project also scratched an itch for the photographer who, like most people these days, was missing casual social interactions.

“Because I had 24 places to go, I was pretty tight time-wise,” Isacson says. “That’s probably a good thing, because otherwise I would have wanted to stay and talk with everybody. I haven’t had that, and it’s been strange. It was really easy to communicate. It was like that Norman Rockwell era when you walked down the street and just talked to people in their yards. It all feels in a way that time has been rewound. I think people are just moving at a different pace now, a lot slower and quieter. Obviously, people are antsy, but generally they were just happy to be connecting with someone.”

As part of the Front Porch Project (which is also raising donations for the local chapter of Meals on Wheels), Isacson asked her subjects to submit their thoughts in writing on domestic living during the pandemic. “I asked everyone to write something not so much about how they’re feeling now, but looking back to that week (in mid-March) when everything shifted. Everybody has a different way of remembering when it all changed so drastically.”

The photos of the Front Porch Project can be seen on Amy Isacson’s website at amyisacson.com.

Staff Writer at Good Times |

Wallace Baine has been an arts writer, film critic, columnist and editor in Santa Cruz for more than 25 years. He is the author of “A Light in the Midst of Darkness,” a cultural history of the independent bookseller Bookshop Santa Cruz, as well as the book “Rhymes with Vain: Belabored Humor and Attempted Profundity,” and the story collection “The Last Temptation of Lincoln.” He is a staff writer for Good Times, Metro Silicon Valley and San Benito/South Valley magazine.

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