Three weeks ago photographer Yvette Wendt-Fomin began taking portraits of Cloverdale families in front of their homes. At first she was just responding to a few inquiries for so-called “porch portraits,” then she began to see the portraits as a way of keeping her community connected during shelter in place. In the end, she took photos of over 100 local families and raised $7,600 for the Cloverdale Food Pantry and the Cloverdale Senior Multipurpose Center.
Wendt-Fomin is a photographer by trade, in addition to another job she holds. While this is usually her slow season for photography, she saw an even larger drop-off in clients following the onset of COVID-19.
“While my business was slow, I figured I could do something to help the community. I had several people message me to see if I was doing porch photos,” she said.
After multiple people inquired, she decided to start taking them. First, however, she wanted to see if there was a way she could use the photos to help the community as a whole. Wendt-Fomin said that she reached out to Cloverdale councilmember Marta Cruz, who suggested she use the portraits as a fundraiser to help support the Cloverdale Food Pantry and the Cloverdale Senior Multipurpose Center, both of which have been greatly impacted by the shelter-in-place order.
For the portraits, Wendt-Fomin charged a minimum $25 donation, though she noted that many people donated more than that.
“It exploded. I went into it thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll do this through the end of April,’ but I had so many people contact me,” she said.
Wendt-Fomin wrapped up taking the porch photos this past weekend, but not before inspiring a photographer in Windsor to launch a similar project.
When asked if she saw any themes emerge when comparing the over 100 portraits, she said that the style of portrait seemed to be split down the middle — some families used the portrait as more of a traditional photo to remember the time, whereas others chose to pose with markers of the shelter-in-place order. Some popular props included toilet paper, Clorox wipes, face masks and glasses of wine, she said.
She noted that when she’s all caught up with editing the photos, she hopes to have a contest over Facebook where people can vote on their favorite portrait. The winning family will likely receive a free portrait session with her, she said.
For many photographers, taking portraits can be fairly hands-on — it involves directing people where and how to pose and occasionally reaching in to fix a stray hair. However, social distancing means that photographers taking porch portraits are unable to interact with subjects the way they may be used to.
“It was definitely difficult, because I’m a very hands-on person,” Wendt-Fomin said. “So to have to do it from a distance and not be able to fix hair or move somebody in a position I want them to … most of the time when I want someone to do something I’ll emulate it. I didn’t stress out over it; I just had fun with it. Most of the time when I’m doing a photoshoot, I’m fixing their hair, I’m fixing their clothes. It was definitely different, it was an awkward feeling.”
Looking back on the project, the best part of taking the porch portraits was getting to meet people in Cloverdale that she had never met before.
“I’ll have been in Cloverdale this year for 30 years, and it’s crazy how many people I saw during this adventure that I’ve never met before,” she said. “It was really wonderful to meet a lot of these families in Cloverdale … I met a lot of new wonderful people, so it’s been, for me, an amazing adventure. It’s been so fulfilling, and I love meeting all the people in town you never even knew were there — it’s crazy.”