Saskatchewan

Photographers stop Front Steps Project after national body requests, complaints

Photographers are being asked by the Professional Photographers of Canada to stop all sessions and stay home.

P.E.I. photographer says she's proud of the photographs she took before being shut down

Katrina Kuzminer said she always made sure to follow safe physical distancing when photographing families on their front steps. (Submitted by Katrina Kuzminer)

In the picturesque towns of Prince Edward Island, Katrina Kuzminer was out snapping photos when she got a call from Health PEI.

Her photography partner received word that Health PEI had gotten a complaint about them and they had to stop photographing, weeks after receiving a letter of approval. 

Kuzminer lives in Summerside and joined The Front Steps Project at the end of March. The project was started in Massachusetts by photographers Cara Soulia and Kristen Collins, then spread on social media and inspired photographers across Canada to join. 

Kuzminer joined two other photographers on the island. The three split up different areas so they could reach as many people as possible — and safely. Kuzminer would announce on social media the area she was going to that day, and people would send their addresses. 

Katrina Kuzminer said she never went far from her vehicle when photographing families and maintained proper physical distancing. (Submitted by Katrina Kuzminer)

"I would pull up to the house right on the sidewalk ... stop, honk and then they would come out on their step and then I would just either be in my car shooting, or step out of the car."

Kuzminer said she didn't enter yards, was always more than six metres away and used a 105 mm lens to make it seem like she was closer than she was. 

Katrina Kuzminer was photographing families for free outside their front doors to bring some joy during tough days. (Submitted by Katrina Kuzminer)

"People were very, very happy," she said. "People actually posted about me on their page and [were] telling people how thankful they are that they got family photos done because they haven't had them done in forever. 

"I did it all for free just to get out of the house and do a little bit of good for the community in this hard time."

I was really proud of what we did, because all together between the three of us we shot probably over 600 families on the island.- Katrina Kuzminer

Kuzminer received messages from other photographers on the island advising her to stay home. She weighed the options and her photography partner contacted Health PEI, who sent them a letter of approval. 

Then after someone complained to Health PEI, Kuzminer and her partners had to stop. 

"We were doing nothing wrong in a sense of putting anybody in danger," she said. "And still we got a complaint, which I was confused by.

"But I was really proud of what we did, because altogether, between the three of us, we shot probably over 600 families on the island," Kuzminer said. "We got to make those people happy and we made a lot of new friends."

Katrina Kuzminer said she's proud that she was able to reach so many families along with the other P.E.I. photographers she worked with. (Submitted by Katrina Kuzminer)

On April 9, the Professional Photographers of Canada issued a statement asking all photographers across the country to stop the project. 

"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," Louise Vessey, chair of the Professional Photographers of Canada said in a statement.

Understanding from photographers

Lexie Larson started snapping photographs of smiling families in front of their front doors a couple weeks ago. She said she understands the national body's view and now joins a number of photographers across the country who are putting their lens caps back on.

"I jumped on board and just wanted to go out and still be able to be safely in the community and kind of brighten some people's days with all of the doom and gloom coming in," she said.

Lexie Larson is the person behind Blinc Photo & Film in North Battleford. She was offering portraits in exchange for charitable donations. (Submitted by Lexie Larson )

Larson, a photographer based in North Battleford, Sask., said she received an overwhelming amount of requests and visited over 100 houses with nothing but positive feedback. 

"I'm not accepting any money for this at all. It's completely free. It's a pay-it-forward aspect. I have just asked people to pay it forward in any positive way that they can, so they can either make a donation to a local charity or ... just help a neighbour out," she said. 

Lexie Larson is a photographer in the North Battleford area. (Submitted by Lexie Larson)

Larson said she understands the national body had to make a statement in case someone did end up being sick, but she believes photographers in higher-risk areas should abide by it and others should simply take it day-by-day following their provincial regulations at the time. 

'They just wanted to bring some joy to people in a hard time'

A New Brunswick photographer shares Kuzminer's experience of other photographers putting down the project. 

Jennifer Blake lived in Saskatchewan before moving to Oromocto, N.B. —  her home province.

Blake joined the Front Steps Project after reading about it online. On her second day shooting, Blake received a message letting her know that many photography groups were talking negatively about the project. 

Jennifer Blake was doing portraits on front steps before she received some negative reactions. (Submitted by Jennifer Blake/Blueberry Hill Photography)

"My first reaction was like, 'Well I'm not doing anything wrong,'" she said. 

The negativity continued, she said. After three days of sessions, Blake decided to stop for a while because she understood where these comments were coming from. Blake said she doesn't judge someone who has done the project in the past or continues doing it in the future, but does suggest people stay home. 

Jennifer Blake is a photographer based in Oromocto, N.B. (Submitted by Jennifer Blake)

Blake does hope the negativity stops in the future.

"Some people have just been really mean about it and I think, as photographers, we need to stick together," she said. "We're all kind of in the same place. We're all struggling.

"Everybody had good intentions. They weren't spreading COVID-19 everywhere. They just wanted to bring some joy to people in a hard time."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heidi Atter

Mobile Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi moved to Labrador in August 2021. She has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email heidi.atter@cbc.ca.

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