Mississauga photographer takes peoples portraits from front steps of their homes
TORONTO -- In a not-so-ordinary year, capturing photos of families together on their front steps has become the ‘norm’ for Nicole Lem.
“It builds community within isolation,” the Mississauga-based photographer tells CTV News Toronto. “It shows that we are all the same, we are in this together, even though our stories are all very different.”
Lem, who runs her own photography business called ‘Lemography,’ started taking ‘porch portraits’ for families in Peel and Halton Region at the beginning of the pandemic. When not under lockdown, she would visit homes and photograph families from a safe distance.
“I had people on their front steps, on their front lawns, hanging from the trees,” she says. “To be able to go around and have people come outside and be like, ‘oh my gosh I got dressed today for you!’ And just the excitement, it was enough for me to keep going.”
Lem was inspired by Kristen Collins and American photographer Cara Soulia, who created ‘The Front Steps Project’ in Needham, Massachusetts back in March. Their goal was to highlight the faces of the community members staying home, while documenting a time when people were unable to visit with each other. Photographers around the world began similar efforts where they live.
TFSP is a volunteer-based fundraiser that raises money for vital non-profits. In lieu of payment for her work, Lem has been asking the families she photographs to make a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada – a cause close to her heart.
“I lost my father at a very young age, so my brother actually participated in the program,” she explains. “The program provided wonderful things for them, and for our family, when we were very young.”
Recently, the founders of The Front Steps Project published a book showcasing front porch photos from a variety of photographers.
“There’s 250 photographers featured, 47 from Canada, 7 from Ontario,” says Lem. “And I’m one of the seven from Ontario.”
Lem’s featured photo shows a family gathered on their front porch in Caledon, Ontario, with the youngest son hanging upside down in his father’s arms. The photo was taken last March.
“Just an ensue of laughter came out, and it just captured such an emotionally fun, candid moment,” Lem says.
Kellie Speakman and her son Sam participated in the Front Steps Project with Lem, and say that it was a unique way to take a ‘snapshot’ of this moment in time.
“It’s nice to be able to capture where we are in our life right now,” Kellie tells CTV News Toronto. “COVID’s given us all a higher appreciation for family and getting outside, and to do it outside at our home is really, really fun.”
Lem says the response to The Front Steps Project has been "rewarding, gratifying and positive."
“I had a lot of feedback on what it meant to people and to families to have me come out because it plays a bigpart on mental health, being locked up,” she says.
Lem is currently taking a break from photographing families while communities are in lockdown. She says that participating in TFSP’s mission was an exciting way to share her passion for photography, while safely connecting with others during COVID-19.
“It’s giving back, it’s supporting local, its bringing awareness to community, bringing awareness to mental health,” she says. “The purpose of this project far surpasses any contribution that I did. It’s done wonderful things for me.”