Barrington Front Porch Project brings smiles and lifts spirits

Photographer’s project uplifts families and documents life during this most unusual of times

By Scott Pickering
Posted 4/8/20

Like everyone, Devon McWilliams has been mostly stuck inside for weeks. Aside from short strolls with her husband and son, or a few stretches outside in the yard when the weather has been tolerable, …

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Barrington Front Porch Project brings smiles and lifts spirits

Photographer’s project uplifts families and documents life during this most unusual of times

Posted

Like everyone, Devon McWilliams has been mostly stuck inside for weeks. Aside from short strolls with her husband and son, or a few stretches outside in the yard when the weather has been tolerable, she’s been social distancing and keeping a low profile.

The coronavirus epidemic has not only shut down all normal social outlets, it has temporarily shut down Ms. McWilliams’ livelihood. A professional photographer who shoots weddings, special events and family portraits, Ms. McWilliams has had to keep her distance from anyone other than family — meaning, all customers.

In watching social media and connecting virtually with friends around the country, Ms. McWilliams learned about the Front Porch Project. It’s a grassroots initiative that’s been getting a lot of exposure on both social and traditional media. A friend and fellow photographer in San Diego launched a project in her neighborhood and inspired Ms. McWilliams to do the same here in Barrington.

This past Saturday and Sunday, Ms. McWilliams bounced around her Alfred Drowne neighborhood, with camera and long lens in hand, and lifted spirits everywhere she went.

People were excited just to come of out the house, whether it was to dress up, or just have a reason to get out of the house, even if it was to talk to a stranger,” Ms. McWilliams said. “It was the same for me. Just getting out of the house and talking with people, interacting with people, was a very good feeling.”

The Front Porch Project is being initiated by professional photographers around the country. The premise is simple. Since everyone is quarantining at home, the kids are home from school and college, and there isn’t much to do, it’s a great time for family portraits.

Families gather on their “front porch” (or entryway or yard or steps), and the photographer shoots portraits from a safe distance, often from the street. The families get a free portrait, in exchange for a requested donation to charity.

Ms. McWilliams chose four charities — Amos House, Hope and Main, We Share Hope and the United Way of Rhode Island — and asked families to support those causes.

As Ms. McWilliams traveled the streets in the Alfred Drowne neighborhood, there was a palpable energy in the front yards. Some families dressed in coordinated outfits, as they would in a formal family portrait. Others wandered out in their pajamas and casual attire — the standard of living for those in home isolation. A few dressed in costumes, and many displayed handmade signs.

“People were smiling. It was really uplifting. It was just so good to give them a reason to come outside,” Ms. McWilliams said.

Photographically, it doesn’t hurt that the Alfred Drowne neighborhood is one of the most unique in Barrington, officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with a scattering of plaqued houses that go back more than 200 years. There are front porches with charm, entryways loaded with historic character, and bright, colorful front doors. It creates an ideal backdrop for family portraits.

In addition to bringing out the smiles, the Front Porch Project also documents an unprecedented time in human history. No one has ever experienced life like this, and the family portraits create a tapestry of this era.

“The signs really gave you the sense of what’s going on,” Ms. McWilliams said.

The Neilan family posed together on their front steps, and then the two young children posed with a homemade “Courage” sign. It was a message to their neighbors and really to everyone.

The energy around the Alfred Drowne Front Porch Project is gathering momentum, and requests are pouring in. Ms. McWilliams has taken 26 portraits so far, and she has a growing list of families asking for a time slot.

“People are really excited,” Ms. McWilliams said. “It’s been a lot fun.”

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