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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Photographer Documents Families Through 'Florissant Porch Project'

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2020 at 8:12 AM

click to enlarge Adjusting to the pandemic, families pose in front of their homes for the Florissant Porch Project. - PHOTO COURTESY JESSICA SINGLETON
  • Adjusting to the pandemic, families pose in front of their homes for the Florissant Porch Project.

Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, people still want photos. Photographers still want to take them.

Local photographer Jessica Singleton saw photographers across the country shoot subjects from their porches and thought she’d do the same. She says she’s doing what she’s always done, just from six feet away.

“Even though we’re shut down and photographers are not essential, I wanted to find a way to preserve some memories for all the families that are missing out on important times in their lives,” Singleton says.

Before COVID-19 came to St. Louis, Singleton ran a studio on St. Charles’ Main Street called JS Photography STL. When her work there was unexpectedly halted, she decided to start the Florissant Porch Project as a way to document the virus while also giving back to the community where she's lived for 30 years. She charges her subjects a $40 minimum and uses the money to buy gift cards from a mix of local businesses to help them out. When the stay-at-home order is lifted, she plans to hold a live drawing to hand out the gift cards to people she photographed.

The project quickly grew to her photographing families in many different communities. Singleton has photographed nurses with their families and new mothers wanting to document their newborns. One family asked her to rush over to shoot photos of their dog before they had to put it down the next day.

Singleton sees the same essence of family in her photos that there's always been, but now she says she feels it more. Siblings don't fight or cry as much during shoots. People pose closer without being told. The sessions feel less stressful than they did a month ago.

Patsy Schmermund asked Singleton to shoot photos of her three-week-old son.

“Even in the midst of all this craziness, we still wanted to document these early weeks because they get big so fast,” Schmermund says.

click to enlarge Patsy Schmermund and her family. - PHOTO COURTESY JESSICA SINGLETON
  • Photo courtesy Jessica Singleton
  • Patsy Schmermund and her family.

If anything, the porch shoot was a good excuse to wear something other than PJ’s, Schmermund says.

Singleton takes the photos from a safe distance. Schmermund says she's had people closer to her at the grocery store.

Even with all the safety precautions she takes — gloves, masks, no cash exchanges — Singleton says she gets a lot of criticism, mostly from other photographers. They tell her to stay home. But the urge to document what’s going on is too compulsive.

“I’ve talked to numerous police officers to make sure I’m following the law,” Singleton says. “There’s less than ten people gathering, I'm staying more than six feet away. I’m not really doing anything wrong. I’m just trying to bring peace to a fearful time in everyone’s lives.”

Singleton says in a time so full of fear, she feels like her job has never been more important.

“I just want to give them a smile,” Singleton says. “Everything on news feeds is fear or new numbers. This is a way to take a break from it and smile and try and forget for ten minutes that the world has really changed.”

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