Family portraits during an apocalypse


Some dressed in formal attire. Others wore pajamas. Altogether, 30 families belonging to B’nai Shalom of Olney gathered on their front porches to be photographed for a project aimed at capturing quarantine life.

Congregants Lauren Sachs and congregant Andy Schuman were the photographers for the Front Steps Project. Sachs, who teaches art and photography at Berman Hebrew Academy, said she agreed to head the project so that she could see other people while under quarantine.

“It became a nice excuse for me to actually get out of the house. I felt really trapped myself,” Sachs said. “People were very eager to sign up for an opportunity to have a nice new family photo and kind of remember this very, very awkward and bizarre and uncertain time that we’re in.”

Congregant Beth Poston of Brookeville and her family participated in the project. She learned about it from a Facebook post and opted in as a means “to find an opportunity to commemorate this time.”

“As a family, we were excited for it to freeze a moment,” Poston said. “We put a smile on our faces during a time where there weren’t many opportunities for that.”

Sachs said project participants felt a need to include all family members, leading to some Skyping over laptops to be included and lots of pictures of pets.

“I photographed a lot, a lot, a lot of dogs. A lot of dogs. I don’t think I’ve ever done more pet photography than I ended up doing during the project,” Sachs said. “It’s very sweet how many people consider their dogs to be part of their family and would bring them out for some of their shots.”

Rabbi Scott Hoffman said the project was part of an outreach initiative to unite the congregation during the pandemic. The Conservative synagogue has also had a drive-in movie night in the parking lot and a “Car-E-Safari” where members viewed zoo animals from their cars.

“I think all these projects, collectively, were something very important because they restored some sense of normalcy in a time when that was missing,” Hoffman said.

Sachs has ended the project as the number of interested families interested has dwindled. She said the circumstances that drove the project are changing.

“I feel like that kind of moment of where everything was so uncertain in the beginning and that sort of weird, apocalyptic feeling where you don’t know what’s going on and you want the comfort of something happening, thankfully that’s over.”

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