Taking inspiration from peers in cities hit earlier by COVID-19, at least two San Antonio photographers recently have offered a new kind of family portraits: shots that capture families and individuals in front of their homes or on their porches.

Dubbed “the porch project” or “porch-raits,” the notion and initiative have been embraced by photographers in cities around the country as the coronavirus pandemic forced people into their homes and governments instituted social distancing measures.

In San Antonio, photographers Caitlin Hudnall and Kat Carey have each offered their own version of this initiative. Their photographs were captured largely or entirely before the official Stay Home, Work Safe order came from the City and Bexar County on March 23.

Both Hudnall and Carey said that they were inspired to do their porch shots after seeing on social media that photographers in cities on the East Coast had made similar photographs.  

“I wanted to capture the weirdness of home life during this time,” Hudnall said.

“Things are moving so fast with this virus that we went from living perfectly normal lives one day to planning for quarantine and toilet paper shortages the next. Kids are home from school and parents are either struggling to work from home or out of jobs due to everything happening.”

Carey referred to this time as “historic,” saying she felt a certain sense of duty to document how people are coping. 

“To me documenting it is beyond important,” she said, noting that the porch sessions also “bring a little light to the people” being photographed.

Carey said she ended up having to cancel more than 20 porch portrait sessions a few days after the Stay Home, Work Safe order was instituted because she was unsure about the “the rules right now for photographers.” 

All told, she photographed nearly 40 families and individuals on their porches.

Hudnall said that she stopped scheduling porch appointments immediately upon the issuance of the Stay Home, Work Safe order, but photographed 13 households before the order went into effect.

“I would love to capture more,” she said, “and plan to just bring my camera and zoom lens along with me on my occasional walks around my own neighborhood, in the off chance that a neighbor would like me to capture them.”

Katherine Hogan, whom Hudnall photographed along with her two children, expressed gratitude for the experience. Hogan and a few of her neighbors signed up for Hudnall’s portraits via their neighborhood Facebook page.

Katherine Hogan and her children have a little fun in a porch portrait. Credit: Courtesy / Caitlin Hudnall

“It gave us an opportunity to engage with our neighbors at a safe distance and have some fun,” she said of the shoot. “During these trying times, finding joy in the little things is extremely important.”

She said that Hudnall told her family to “express ourselves however we wanted and encouraged us to be creative,” which brought some necessary “fun and laughter during a time that has been extremely stressful.”

“It would be so easy to disconnect from everyone during times of isolation, but Caitlin provided us a way to connect with our neighbors in a unique way,” she said.

Rebecca Lively, a friend of Hudnall who also participated in the project, along with her family, said she saw the whole thing as a fun distraction. 

She and her family “enjoyed spending time thinking up what a funny representation of our family would be.”

Apart from the fun, Lively saw a deeper value to the project.

“The project documents what’s happening in the world and in our community,” she said.  

“We’re living through history, and photos of people isolating themselves in their homes are worth creating. As an added bonus, I hope [these projects] encourage others to follow social distancing practices and keep our community safe.”

James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.