Jennifer Townhill’s job as a photographer has been put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, but it hasn’t stopped her from taking photos. She’s connecting with her subjects from a safe distance.
For more than two weeks, the Los Altos resident has been visiting the homes of local families and photographing them through their windows and doorways.
When the shelter-in-place orders were enacted in March, Townhill said she had to cancel all of her scheduled photo shoots – a first in her 12 years as a full-time photographer. That led her to start a personal photography project.
Drawing inspiration from Japanese photographer Shizuka Yokomizo’s “Dear Stranger” series, Townhill created her own series: “Postcards from the Porch.”
“A couple of weeks ago I was thinking that the shelter-in-place was actually the perfect time to do that kind of a similar project since people were home,” Townhill said.
She reached out to her network of friends and received an overwhelming response. She has photographed approximately 15 families.
“After a few photo shoots, I had enough photos for the series,” Townhill said, “but so many families were interested that I felt like I wanted to mainly do it for them so that they can document this time. I could also learn and grow for myself. Taking pictures at night through windows is tricky, and it’s a little bit of a learning curve with reflective glass and getting the right light.”
Townhill hopes her project provides a way for families to express themselves during the pandemic.
“When I arrange these photo shoots and go to the families, they’re so excited that they already have everything all planned out that they want to display on camera,” she said. “They are creating their own scenes and getting creative and expressing what they’ve been doing during the shelter-in-place. The biggest surprise for me is that I don’t have to go there and direct them and give them ideas – they already have them and I’m just clicking away.”
Sumaira Nabeel, also a Los Altos resident, has been working with Townhill for years and participated in the “Postcards from the Porch” series.
“When Jennifer called to tell me about the project she was working on, I couldn’t wait to be a part of it,” Nabeel said. “She has such an incredible eye and the idea was so unique and relevant in current times, I wanted our family to be part of that vision and part of the community that she brings together through her talent and art.”
Townhill encourages other photographers in her situation to take this time to work on personal growth.
“I think it’s hard for a lot of people, especially if this is their primary source of income,” she said. “I would say use this time to learn a new skill, watch some videos, update your website or do a personal project.”
Townhill plans to continue her “Postcards from the Porch” series for as long as she keeps receiving requests.
“I’m enjoying watching these families express themselves,” she said. “I’m giving them a vehicle to show what the shelter-in-place means to them. Some families are using symbols, props and re-creating scenes, and it’s been fun helping the families express what they’re going through these past few weeks.”
To view photos from Townhill’s project, visit townhillphotography.com/p395806636.