By Mira Brody EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BOZEMAN – In his infamous expression of love for the state of Montana, John Steinbeck in “Travels with Charlie” penned his admiration for our ability to “undertake the passing art of neighborliness.” As the statewide stay-at-home shrinks our social circles, local photographers are adapting their craft to capture this neighborhood spirit with the Front Steps Project.
The concept allows photographers to hone their skill, donate all or a portion of their service fees to local nonprofits and capture family photos from a safe distance—from the subjects’ own front porch. The movement that began on the East Coast in the Boston area has spread across the country and was quickly adopted up by local photographers, including Connor Bergin of Bergin Photography, Mike Greener of Greener Visuals in Bozeman, and Kirby Grubaugh in Big Sky.
“Artists and entertainers aren’t considered essential, but they can still create by themselves as a way to escape,” said Bergin, who is collecting donations from his Front Steps Project photography sessions to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. He has raised just over $5,000 so far. “What we can do is create by ourselves, maintain that safe distance and give people something to smile about outside of their house.”
Bergin, a Boston native, says this is the first time he’s captured family portraits completely pro bono and he said it’s been an opportunity for those unable to donate to get professional photos and also be educated about the local resources available to them should they need the help. The sessions, which are taken from about 20 feet away, are also a reminder of what’s important, Greener says—whether that’s family, friends or pets.
“I wanted to change the narrative from one of fear and uncertainty and instead focus on what you have around you,” said Greener, who donates 50 percent of his regular portrait sessions to nonprofits. He has so far raised $1,000 for the Greater Gallatin United Way and $1,000 for the Bozeman Community Foundation. “It gives you something positive to focus on and at the same time raise money for the helpers in our community.”
One family had just brought their newborn home from the hospital. Another noticed Bergin taking photos of their neighbors and came outside to ask him to photograph his family as well. These are the moments the young photographer is happy to capture. He hopes that people see the finished product and get a sense that while the world may seem at a standstill, life does go on.
“You’re not in a prison but it can certainly feel like that sometimes when we can’t go out and gather or go to a movie—a lot of people end up feeling trapped in their own homes,” Bergin said. “Your neighborhood is your community; you’re not alone.”
Maintaining a sense of purpose and positivity is vital during times of isolation and another motivator for the artists behind their lenses.
“I think mental health is going to be a very huge thing throughout this whole pandemic,” said Grubaugh, who is donating 10 percent of his service fees to the Big Sky Relief Fund. He said the greatest reward has been the genuine moments of laughter between families as they gather outside in front of the camera. “I think that keeping your sanity and figuring out whatever you need to do to keep your happiness is important.”
At its heart, the Front Steps Project is a reminder about what is important—although our favorite places are closed and events are canceled, love is not.
Join the Front Steps Project