Local photographer Tonya Cook of Tonya Cook Photography loves capturing the in-between moments of her subjects—the period between the posed smiles and perfect postures, when people giggle and act natural. During this time of year, she’d normally encourage this behavior in the families, high school seniors, and other paying clients who fill up her spring schedule.
But this spring, Cook, like several other professional photographers, had to cancel all sessions scheduled for March and April due to COVID-19 concerns. Although her business was brought to a halt, she’s decided to use her time to pursue a more personal project—one both close to her heart and home.
She calls it Norwood Porch Portraits. It’s an idea Cook has been toying with for almost three years, one where she and a friend would photograph and interview Norwood residents about why they chose to live in Norwood. Her photography business caused her to set the project aside, but she says she’s glad she waited to pursue it because it’s “way more meaningful now” to go from porch to porch to capture the realities of families’ quarantine lifestyles.
“Come [out of your house] in your pajamas with your bedhead and your cup of coffee and just be yourself,” Cook says. “There’s no stress involved. It’s just been so much easier to get nice, relaxing, real moments when there’s no expectations, you know?”
When she started the project in late March, Cook asked a few friends to be her first subjects, who wore their work-from-home attire and decorated their porches with kids’ toys. The photos sparked interest on Facebook, and requests started flooding in.
Now several weeks and almost 100 photographs later, Cook has captured kids cuddling pets, mothers sipping wine, and dads rocking a blazer and shorts. Some residents choose to incorporate their work into the photos, like a DJ who displayed all her albums on her front steps. Others just smile and enjoy the moment.
Of course, Cook practices social distancing while taking the photos. She schedules 10 or more appointments every morning and gives each family a 15-minute warning to “style” their porch. She honks from her car to let them know she’s arrived and then takes each photo from the safety of the sidewalk. Once she’s done with a day’s appointmets, she quickly retouches the photos before uploading them to Facebook within a few hours of shooting.
Cook says her Norwood Porch Portraits project is more for her neighbors’ enjoyment then her own. In the future, she’d like to compile her portraits into a coffee table book that she could sell and donate proceeds to a local charity. But for now, she simply wants to show how the Norwood community, from its lifelong residents to its new families, that they’re all struggling together.
“We’re all human, and when you’re going through something like this, you’re going to have 10 ups and 10 downs,” Cook says. “We don’t always have to have the best face on; we don’t always have to pretend everything’s OK. We’re all a little frazzled; we all can’t stand our kids sometimes, and that’s all right, you know?”