The Porch Portraits Project: Two Bay City photographers capturing images of history as it happens

Ashley Brown and Kurt Kryszak are capturing history in a series of family portraits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families gather on their steps and front lawns for the informal portraits.

Brown, a photographer who owns Eleven Creative, and photographer/videographer Kurt Kryszak of Kryszak Photography, share a studio in Downtown Bay City at 509 Center Ave. Before COVID-19 hit, the pair focused on weddings, senior pictures, and family portraits. They also provide freelance photography services for Route Bay City.

Since the portraits are taken at home, it’s easy to include family pets.

Now, they spend their days shooting portraits of families together on porches or in their front yards. The portraits capture moments in everyday family life under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home Executive Order.

Brown relies on long lenses to capture portraits without any physical contact between herself and the people in the pictures.“I think there’s something really raw and real about taking family photos at your own home,” Brown adds. “Especially during the pandemic. It doesn’t give you the opportunity to go out and shop for new matching outfits, get haircuts, etc. It’s real life.”

Most of the families featured in the project have been eager to get outside and do something different.

Brown was inspired when she came across an NBC Boston article talking about the #TheFrontStepsProject, which started in Needham, Massachusetts. A freelance photographer there wanted to capture families in this unique time in history. Brown’s approach is similar and aims at a more local market. She is calling it the Porch Portraits Project.

Before the pandemic, Brown’s business focused on families, high school seniors, and wedding parties. Much of that business dried up when social distancing restrictions became normal.

“I saw the original article about this project, and I thought ‘Okay, that’s awesome,’ “ says Brown. “I’d love to be able to capture people with their families right now. I think this has really shown us—everyone—what is important in life, and that’s our families.”

The portraits offer a glimpse of American family life during a global pandemic.While the project does require Brown and Kryszak to leave their home, they are careful to follow social distancing guidelines to protect themselves, their subjects, and the community. They drive to the homes, but remain outside and about 10 to 15 feet away from the families. Scheduling and payment all take place without any physical contact. Neither Brown nor Kryszak are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms and have no known exposure to anyone with the illness.

Jenn and Aaron Grigg contacted Brown to become part of her Porch Portraits Project.
“I don’t touch anything other than my own camera equipment and my vehicle,” Brown adds, discussing the practice of safe methods during the pandemic. While she takes stills of the clients, Kryszak takes photos of Brown behind the scenes—also at a safe distance. The whole process is done in under 10 minutes.

– Families throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region are invited to join the project.Like how most of us feel right now, Brown says the families she’s taken portraits of so far have all been a little stir crazy and anxious to get outside. “One client used them as their pregnancy/baby announcement, so that was fun,” she adds. Once the portraits are finished and edited, she emails them directly to the clients.

The finished portraits offer a candid look at life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brown and Kryszak are accepting clients for this project in the Great Lakes Bay Region, but are focused on Bay City, Saginaw, and Midland.

As the studio is closed and people cancel weddings and delay senior portraits, Brown and Kryszak are looking for more Porch Portraits Project clients. They plan on continuing the project as long as the pandemic lasts. To schedule an appointment, reach out to Brown through Eleven Creative.