I love people, and miss the almost daily contact with new folk that my job as a photographer afforded me. That privilege largely went away with the pandemic.
I found a way to connect. I set up a contactless, walk-through portrait studio on the sidewalk in front of my house for anyone who cared to stop by.
I resorted to making photos this way because of COVID-19, but I want to make portraits that are not about the virus and its impact on our lives. The booth portraits were offered over four weekends in April, with the hope they would provide a small escape for everyone who played along. Making them made me happy. It was a way for us to come together while we’re forced to stay apart.
This has grown into a partnership with local nonprofits Memphis Slim Collaboratory and JUICE Orange Mound, which host the photo booth with the aim of supporting community spirit and helping combat the feeling of isolation so many are experiencing. Everyone receives a free photo, but donations are accepted with all proceeds benefiting the host organization.
Using telephoto lenses, I make portraits that feel close and intimate in spite of the distance between us. After the shoot, I cut out full-length photos of the people who pose in the booth and add them to an ever-growing panorama showing Memphians standing together side by side.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The people who stroll through the booth need no encouragement to show how they’re feeling. They’re eager to share and connect, excited to be seen. While so much of our normal lives has disappeared, there’s a clear and persistent strength seen in the portraits that speaks firmly, “I’m here!”
In collaboration with MLK50, the photo booth has added a “ballot box” feature, encouraging participants to fill out a comment card responding to one of three prompts:
- If I could change something about _____ it would be _____.
- What is at stake for you (your family, your community…) in this moment?
- How are you feeling in this moment (hopeful, anxious, resilient…)?
The thoughtful heartfelt responses revealed a complex mix of concern and aspiration, strain and resilience.
I’m so grateful for the trust of everyone who shared with me at the photo booth, and for the hosts of the photos featured here; Memphis Slim Collaboratory and JUICE Orange Mound. Thank you.
Brandon Dill is a photographer based in Memphis. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, WIRED, Forbes, USAToday, MSNBC.com, Bloomberg and others.
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