Editor’s note: Less than a week after Bobbie DeBrito was interviewed for this article, the Shelby County Health Department ruled that photography was not an essential business. DeBrito and other photographers are awaiting a ruling from Ohio’s Dispute Resolution Commission to determine whether they can participate in the Front Porch Project and other business in Shelby County.
SIDNEY – Bobbie DeBrito has found traveling to homes to photograph families as they cope during the COVID-19 pandemic to be both refreshing and worrisome.
DeBrito, a photographer from Sidney, has joined photographers around the world who are partaking in the Front Porch Project. The movement aims to document life during the pandemic and bring some joy to the people who are stuck at home.
“I am seeing boredom and a lot of togetherness, and personally I’m seeing lots of laughter and fun,” DeBrito said. “I think people are trying to put on a happy face right now; I’m not sure if it’s genuine.”
Many of the children whom DeBrito has photographed have been joyous and excited to play outside. Parents, meanwhile, often roll their eyes and seem to be ready to return to a sense of normalcy.
DeBrito shares their angst.
The pandemic, and the stay-at-home orders it’s led to, has halted her normal business, which includes taking family portraits, wedding photos, engagement photos, senior photos, boudoir photos and more.
“It’s weird because you don’t know when things are going to go back to normal,” said DeBrito, who has been a photographer for 12 years. “It’s worrisome to me because I know these sessions can’t go on forever.”
As a self-employed photographer, DeBrito relies on her photography sessions to support her family, but most of those opportunities are on hold.
Making matters more difficult is the fact that her fiancé, Brandon Crumes, is the owner of Troy Barber Shop and currently cannot work because of an order from the Ohio Department of Health to close all barbershops, salons and tattoo parlors across the state.
“We’re both self-employed,” DeBrito said. “We just bought a house three weeks ago so this is all a super, super surprise that this happened right now.”
During this difficult time, the Front Porch Project has given DeBrito an opportunity to remain active and earn some money. She doesn’t charge families for Front Porch Project photographs, rather she allows them to pay whatever they can.
DeBrito has visited dozens of families at their homes in the past month, going from Troy to Wapakoneta and locations in between.
“It’s given them just one thing to look forward to and having something different in their day,” DeBrito said. “The feedback from everybody has been great.”
DeBrito maintains her distance, about 15 to 20 feet from her subjects, while taking Front Porch Project photographs. She encourages families to blow bubbles, draw with sidewalk chalk and play together during the sessions, which typically last five to 10 minutes.
“The front porch project is so unique to the times we are living,” Leah Fullenkamp, one of DeBrito’s clients from Fort Loramie, wrote. “This is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget. It will be neat to have these weeks documented.”
Another client, Jackie Ward, of Anna, wrote, “Bobbie’s photography is breathtaking and we knew she’d capture what we want to remember most about this season we’re in. While my husband and I are still working full time and trying to homeschool, and going crazy in isolation, we wanted to capture something precious that celebrates these calm moments and playful times together as a family.
“There’s one photo of our family gathered on the porch where my husband, Brandon, has his head down. This photo speaks volumes to what we’re feeling right now. He’s a nurse in the ICU and the weight on his shoulders as a nurse and husband and father is unbelievable. For our children, though, this is a chance to play and enjoy each other to the fullest – and THAT is what we want them to remember about this.”
To DeBrito, a refreshing aspect of the Front Porch Project is the photos are less formal than typical photo shoots.
“It’s kind of a breath of fresh air to be able to photograph documentary style instead of everything being so posed and having to be so perfect,” she said.
In recent weeks, she’s also enjoyed spending more time at home with her fiancé and children but worries about small business owners and the people living paycheck to paycheck. She also feels for the high school seniors missing out on their final months in school, the brides-to-be worrying about wedding plans, the expectant mothers who won’t get to have newborn photos taken and everyone suffering with the disease.
“It’s a sense of worry for me because it’s dragging on and dragging on and dragging on,” DeBrito said. “I just think of all the different ways this is affecting people.”
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