Canadian non-profit PPOC speaks out against ‘porch portraits’ during pandemic

The growing trend of ‘porch portraits’ has drawn criticism from a number of people, prompting an official advisory against the activity published by the non-profit Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC). The organization recommends that any type of front porch-based photography be avoided at this time in order to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

‘Porch portraits’ is the term used for a new type of photography session involving people, often families, posing on their home’s front porch. The photos commemorate the ongoing quarantines and this unique time in history, but have prompted criticism from some people, including many photographers, who have called the activity risky and unnecessary.

Under present social distancing efforts, the public is encouraged (or, in some places, required) to stay home except when necessary, with the only acceptable exceptions including work in cases where in can’t be performed at home, as well as trips for essential items like prescriptions and groceries. In some cases, the public is also encouraged to go out for exercise, but to maintain a distance from other people.

Traditional photography sessions aren’t something that can be performed under these restrictions, but a number of photographers have started conducting ‘porch portrait’ sessions, which, in the spirit of the activity, involves the photographer maintaining a distance from the subjects and remaining outdoors. That intention doesn’t always pan out in real life, however, and the PPOC notes that mistakes happen.

In its newly published advisory, the PPOC says:

‘We have been contacted by several photographers upset to see this happening in their area when they are abiding by the suggested public health measures and are staying home. We have also heard from photographers who don’t understand why they should not do these kinds of photography sessions, if they are being safe about it, are doing it for charity, and are following their region’s suggested public health restrictions.’

The PPOC’s official position against ‘porch portraits’ is based on concerns that, in addition to ultimately being unnecessary and nonessential, photographers may also make mistakes that put themselves and their communities at risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

PPOC Chair Louise Vessey explained:

‘I understand that photographers are suddenly cut off from most ‘in real life’ social contact and thus their clients; but this type of photography is not a necessary interaction, nor is it an essential service. Although most do it with the very best of intentions, it still leaves room open for mistakes that could potentially cost lives. Some photographers may knock on the door or ring the doorbell, pass someone in the street, a child could run over to hug them, or their built in photographer instinct to go over and fix hair, pose the client and assist could easily kick in. These potential actions risk passing on, or catching COVID-19.’

The PPOC ultimately states that photography is not an essential business or service and that it ‘strongly recommends’ that photographers do not conduct porch portrait sessions at this time. Vessey states:

‘These stories will still be there once the dust settles and we are on the other side of this Pandemic crisis. We can photograph and tell their stories when the time is right. This is serious! Any risk is not a risk worth taking no matter how small you believe it is.’

Some photographers have turned to other unique types of photo sessions that help maintain distance from other people. Ohio-based photographer Nick Fancher, for example, has started shooting ‘Remotrait’ sessions, which involves using FaceTime to capture unique portraits of clients projected on to different backgrounds in order to compensate for poor connection quality.