Before the novel coronavirus put everything on lockdown, Palos Verdes resident Ute Reckhorn took portraits of people in their homes all over the Los Angeles area.
But, when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued stay-at-home orders, Reckhorn put her business on hold. Still, she thought: “Life is still happening inside homes, I know it.” She was upset she wasn't there to capture those family moments.
Reckhorn searched for a way to do something meaningful with her photography skills that would benefit the community when she came across the #Front Steps Project. “I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said.
The #Front Steps Project was started on March 18 in Needham, Massachusetts by the photographer, Carla Soulia. She invited families in her area to have their portraits taken on their front porch, and instead of charging the family for the picture, Soulia requested the families make a nominal donation to the Needham Community Council.
#Front Steps Project took off and Soulia raised $25,000 for the community council. Her project became popular and hundreds of photographers across the nation kicked off their own #Front Steps Projects. So far, they’ve raised more than $750,000 for their own local causes and non-profits.
“Within twenty-four hours,” Reckhorn said, “I had my information up on my website. I opened a GoFundMe account supporting the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, spread the word and took my first pictures.”
Reckhorn’s project struggled at first, but she persevered and gained momentum through word of mouth and social media. She joined a few Palos Verdes Facebook groups, let them know about the #First Steps Project and it took off. “When I first started, I had no idea how much it would grow, but now more and more people contact me on my website and GoFundMe.”
It’s easy for families to participate. Reckhorn comes to their house and takes the portraits from a safe social distance. She doesn’t pose the family members or tell them what to do. They wear whatever they want, they can hold up signs and props, or just hang out on the front porch during the five-minute session.
“It’s interesting that during this surreal time people want to do something unique,” Reckhorn said, “and each family has their own interpretation of how they want to do it. Some of them want to celebrate birthdays, or anniversaries, or they want a portrait for Mother’s Day or this year’s Christmas card.”
Marina and Tony Accardo, residents of Rolling Hills Estates, have three children, Amelia, August, and Asher. Friends of Reckhorn, they were among the first families to support and participate in her project. Because of the virus, they were unable to celebrate their sons’ birthdays like they usually do and they wanted to do something different and unique. They decided to mark the boys’ birthdays with a Front Steps portrait. “It was very special,” Marina said. “We didn’t dress up; we came out of the house the way we were. The kids enjoyed the photo session, and we’ll always have a family portrait that documents this historic time.”
Paula Moore and her fiancé, Matthew Accardo, live in Palos Verdes Estates, and are also friends of Reckhorn. “Ute came over to take our picture,” Paula said. “It was nice seeing her—normal, but not normal. We enjoyed it though and the portrait was a memorable way to capture an event that doesn’t seem real—memorable and thought provoking.”
Reckhorn said that all of her photo sessions are meaningful, but some affect her more than others. “The photo that touched me the most,” she told me, “was the one I took at Ellen Mendel’s house. When I came to take the pictures, I found out that she had an exchange student from Germany living there—because of the virus he couldn’t go home. I couldn’t imagine how hard this must be for all of the involved families right now.”
Once Reckhorn realized how much her portraits meant to families, it inspired her to do even more. She, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Clara, and Marina Accardo, a local realtor, talked about small business owners in the area who were isolated and struggling. What if Reckhorn photographed them with their families in front of their businesses? Made people aware of their stories?
A little over a week ago, the three of them launched a new project—Faces of the South Bay to support and promote local businesses.
Faces of the South Bay identifies small business owners who are working hard to stay open. Reckhorn takes their portraits with their families on the front steps of their establishments. Her fifteen-year-old daughter, Clara, writes up their information and posts their pictures and stories on Instagram. The new project is doing great, their number of Instagram followers increases every day and now business owners are reaching out them to be featured.
Reckhorn’s desire to do something meaningful for the community with her photography has turned into a reality—her projects are making a difference.
#Front Steps Project and the Faces of the South Bay are proof that good things do happen during bad times. “If it hadn’t had been for the quarantine,” Reckhorn said with a catch in her voice. “I wouldn’t have done it.”