PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Many Oregonians are finding new ways to entertain themselves while Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order is in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Portland photographer Natalie Gildersleeve is documenting families while they social distance on their front porch, in their yard or through a window.
“I told them that once I get there, we can talk on the phone or I could stand on the sidewalk … and kind of guide them or direct them in that way,” she said.
The project showcases families living daily life in restriction as flowers bloom in the forefront or background. In other pictures, children are shown itching to get out behind closed doors.
“It’s so interesting that it’s happening in springtime. So, there’s all of this light that’s blossoming and happening all around us. And yet at the same time, everything that we know is kind of dying around us.”
Gildersleeve got the idea from a friend and then reached out to other families through a Facebook post if they wanted to be photographed.
With minimal clients and having to suddenly homeschool her children, it was the perfect opportunity to lift her spirits during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I got into a major funk … (and) I felt like this could pull me out of that,” Gildersleeve said. “It can also bring a little bit of light to everybody else I knew who must be feeling the same way.”
Gildersleeve’s post on Facebook has more than 500 likes and close to 100 comments. Since the post went live on March 20, she said about 20 families have reached out to her for a free photography session.
“Even though I’m not solely a documentary photographer, I really just wanted to create images that were artistic, but that also told a story and captured kind of the mood of this time,” explained Gildersleeve.
The photographs are filled with warm hues but sometimes daunting stares from a child behind a fence or window. With the light comes the darkness, said Gildersleeve, who wanted to capture humanity in the rawest form. “It makes me just love people even more (by) watching them on the porch with the different ways that they kind of are,” she said. “I see it when I’m editing images, it’s like, ‘Wow, I just love people.’ It kind of gives me a new chance to see things, our shared humanity, I think.”
But the photographer might have to keep more of a distance than before. Brown’s order requires Oregonians to stay home unless they are getting groceries, going to work or engaged in important activities that cannot wait. If the order is violated, it could result in a Class C misdemeanor.
Gildersleeve plans on only photographing families if they’re on her route to the grocery store or her grandmother’s nursing home. “I’m not sure how it’ll be going forward,” said Gildersleeve. “I don’t think I’ll be able to go out maybe quite as much… so I think I’ll just have to play it by ear day by day.”
Gildersleeve hopes her pictures can capture a unique time in history. Pictures of mothers holding and cradling their children on the front porch are reminiscent of Dorothea Lange’s famous photo “Migrant Mother,” an iconic image of the Great Depression. In the iconic photo, 32-year-old Florence Owens Thompson stares out into the distance as two of her seven children hold on to her in Nipomo, California.
“You’re seeing people struggling that are losing their jobs and hearing stories of people that are sick. And at the same time, we’re all witnessing people that are so full of hope. … It gives us all kind of an opportunity to like see both of it and to just let ourselves feel whatever it is that we’re feeling. That’s kind of what I wanted to capture.”
Gildersleeve plans on taking more pictures of families, whenever possible. If she can’t, then her focus will be shifted to capturing social distance from the inside of her home.
To see more of Gildersleeve’s work, visit www.nataliegildersleeve.com.
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