During a typical spring break, one might go on a family vacation or enjoy time off hanging out with friends, but with the unique circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak, Menlo Park resident Kelli Agnich spent hers taking photos of families on their porches – from at least 10 feet away – for charity.
Agnich, a teacher at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School, realized she could use her daily bike ride to photograph neighbors on their porches from the sidewalk, often from about 20 feet away, honoring the spirit of the shelter-at-home mandate, which requires people stay 6 feet from those who don’t live in their household. Agnich scheduled more than 30 “Porchraits” of Menlo Park families during Bing’s spring break, which ran from March 20 to 30.
“My spring break plans were upended along with so many others', so I found myself with a free week and a desire to support our community in a way that no one else was yet doing,” said Agnich, a former children's photographer, in an email. “While this was an idea original to me, I don't think it's inherently unique on a larger scale since, as photographers, storytelling runs deep in our bones. This world-changing moment in which we find ourselves offers so many stories that are begging to be told.”
She asked the families she photographed to donate money to the Ravenswood Emergency Fund, which was launched to provide financial relief related to the school closures for families, teachers and staff.
Agnich has seen some elaborately staged family photographs in the media, complete with stacks of toilet paper, cases of wine, and other props that she feels tread a “very fine line between genuinely documenting this moment in time and making light of a situation that is unbearably difficult for so many families across the world.” Agnich said it is a time for people to check their privilege.
She doesn’t know specifically how much has been raised for the Ravenswood Emergency Fund through her "Porchraits" because she intentionally set the donation level at "pay as you can" so that it felt comfortable to each family.
On a personal level, Agnich, a mother of two daughters who attend Oak Knoll Elementary and Castilleja schools, said she’s a hugger by nature, so maintaining physical distance has been the most emotionally difficult aspect of the shelter-at-home for her.
The cold, rainy weather made it tricky to finish all her shoots last week, but people have been "lovely and flexible about rescheduling," she said. A neighbor texted her, "After all, what else have we got to do? :)"
There has been a "tremendous interest" outside of Menlo Park, but her understanding of the shelter-at-home mandate, as it stands, would prohibit those sessions.
"Once driving is encouraged again, I'd love to snap 'Porchraits' of those families as well in gratitude for their enthusiasm around this project," she said.
“Porchraits” are intended to be a snapshot of this specific moment in time for each family – “makeup-free, 'athleisure' wear, day 4 high-bun hair, and all.”
“The filter of ‘10 feet’ works miracles,” she said.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online here.