In March of 2020, at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, I heard about a photographer in the South shooting portraits of families as quarantine began. I found the story online and forwarded it to my best friend, Anita Buzzy Prentiss, a photographer here in Pittsburgh. As Anita tells it, at first, she was skeptical – like most of us at the time, she didn’t feel great about leaving the house and the fear and uncertainty we were experiencing wasn’t exactly fueling her creativity.
But within minutes she’d changed her mind, seizing on the idea of using her talents as a photographer to spread love, gratitude, joy, and hope while the world turned upside down. Before long, Anita couldn’t keep up with the demand – so many people wanted an image of themselves captured during this strange and surreal time.
Early on, Anita shared that when she’d come do the photographs, people had a lot to say about what was on their minds. As a psychologist and a researcher, I wanted to capture those thoughts, and pitched the idea to Anita. We decided to ask the same five questions of everyone Anita photographed:
What do you miss?
What are you enjoying?
What is surprising you?
What are you learning?
What do you hope for?
Our book, “Porchraits: Pittsburghers on their Porches During Quarantine,” is filled with images of people, couples, and families, with an excerpt from their answers. We reasoned that, since every picture is the same (i.e., pictures of people on or near their porches) that we should ask everyone the same five questions, knowing that, just like the photos, each set of answers would be unique.
These pictures and answers aren’t of or from just anybody: these are Pittsburghers. They live in the city from where Mr. Rogers changed the world. Where some of the most stunning medical and technological innovations have been born. A city that persevered to reinvent itself when the steel mills closed and that continues to strive to make a place for everyone.
And so this collection of images and thoughts gathered in and around Pittsburgh during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic are as inspiring, insightful, delightful, and wise as Pittsburgh itself. At the same time, the contents of this book hold broad relevance. The images and words feel like guidance and grace to help all of us navigate the uncharted waters of the pandemic and will continue to resonate and shine a light even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
“I hope that homes are not ripped away from you because you fall short financially and that universal basic income, higher education, and health care are the norm for every citizen of the country, regardless of what your stoop looks like.”
Bernard Charles – Sharpsburg
“I didn’t realize how much I was letting the expectations of society raise my daughter rather than my better judgement. I didn’t know what my best judgement even was until I had no distractions from the outside world and it was just her and me. We battled a lot at first as we tried to find “normal” in the confusion. And then, I let go. Things started coming together. I still can’t believe how much I am able to accomplish with so little effort, and how happy and at peace we are! I have learned that I am a good Mom. I don’t have to “try.”” Dahlia Williams and Roxanne
Banks-Williams – Wilkinsburg
|“Jenna was born with a congenital heart defect and they said she had a 50-50 chance of living to age 2. We spent her life keeping her alive, and yes, she is one of those people COVID-19 would kill. I was going to give Jenna her diploma at her graduation. The the university mailed back the cap and gowns and cancelled the ceremony. We’d moved here to Pittsburgh just when the shutdown happened. I turned to social media and asked for ideas about how to celebrate graduation and a neighborhood parade for Jenna was born through the kindness of people I had never met.”|
Lisa and Jenna Hartmann – Swisshelm Park
“My ex-husband and I decided to “close our circle of three” (our son, him, and I) and shelter in place because my dad is dying of Stage IV prostate cancer and if we had more contact with others I would not be able to visit him. When my dad tells me he loves me, my heart feels it. That is how my dad is. There are our final days together. I am making today, and every day we have left, as special as I can.”
Jennifer Korona-Huffman with Joseph Korona – Avalon
In memory of Joseph Korona
It was an incredible privilege to receive these answers from the people and families in this book, and we’re deeply grateful to all who so generously participated in our passion project, including those whose pictures and answers aren’t included here. Anita didn’t charge for a single Porchrait that she shot, and she’s donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book to Pinksocks Life, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on promoting kindness and connection through gifting.
To learn more about the project, “Porchraits: Pittsburghers on their Porches During Quarantine,” check out Anita’s website.
Behavioral Scientist, Psychologist
Starting more than 40 years ago, Anita and I became best friends in small neighborhood in the South Hills of Pittsburgh (our moms still live next door to one another). Now we live five minutes apart in the East End of the city and our daughters are best friends. Thank you for being a part of this most recent chapter in our story.