Self-isolation gives rise to a new kind of photography — through windows and doors
Northern photographers find ways to maintain distance from their subjects
When business recently dried up for Whitehorse photographer Alistair Maitland because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he realized he needed to come up with something else.
"I am a portrait and event photographer, and of course there's no more events, so there's no more business," he said.
"So I was trying to think of different ways to be, I guess, a little bit more entrepreneurial."
Now he's doing a brisk business in doorway portraits, or what he calls "door-traits" — shots of people and families in their homes, self-isolating and maintaining social distance. He stays outside while his subjects stand in the doorway or look out through a window.
"I'm sitting with a long lens and stuff," he said.
He charges $25 per portrait, and donates $5 of that to the local food bank. At first some people were paying him cash, but he soon realized that wasn't good practice — social distancing means online payment only.
Maitland credits the original idea to Yellowknife photographer Pat Kane, who started making similar portraits around his city last week. Kane says it started as a kind of joke.
"There's not a lot of work right now, things are slow, people are inside, so I said, you know, 'offering portraits, family portraits. I'll shoot through the window and I'll stand on the sidewalk. We'll be socially distant,'" Kane said.
"And then sure enough, people are like, 'oh man, let's do it."
Kane soon had dozens of people asking for portraits. Maitland did too, after he posted the idea online.
"There's definitely a demand. People want this," Maitland said.
"This is actually just a fun thing to do, something to break up the days and whatnot. But I also think people are quite aware of the situation that we're living in and want to have themselves documented in this time, with their families."
Kane describes his portraits as "creative documentary" shots of people in their everyday life — and he tries to keep it fun. On one shoot, he directed somebody to sit and gaze out their window, "like the Folgers coffee commercial."
He's not making light of what's happening, though, and he knows that things can quickly change.
"I think once it starts getting serious, or if it does get more serious here, this will probably stop. But yeah, it's super fun right now."
For Maitland, the portraits also have historical value. He feels this is a pivotal moment in his community and that his photos capture a period of transition and adaptation.
"I'm in a very special position, very special place, where I can use my skills to document our community right now in this time of pandemic," he said.
He's been intrigued to hear about people's experiences. One couple he shot had just had an ordeal getting home from Mexico. Another man had a similar tale, and decided to pose wearing a snorkel from his time out of the country.
Maitland hopes to eventually share his portraits more widely with the community, but he's not yet sure how. Don't expect a public exhibition anytime soon.
Maitland says people seem to still be in good spirits, despite the upheaval and uncertainty. He says the people he talks to accept the necessity of social distancing and self-isolation.
"They're just doing it, and taking it in stride," he said. "Their spirits haven't been dampened, you know?"
Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Mike Rudyk and Avery Zingel