For local photographer Tessa Dunnington, taking pictures is about capturing moments.

“It’s a story of who you are and where we are in life right now,” Dunnington said.

Dunnington began capturing COVID-19 social distancing for local residents last week, by taking portraits of families on their front porches.

It’s called the Front Porch Project.

Inspired by a photographer in Massachusetts, the concept has spread across the country.

While Dunnington is a professional photographer, she isn’t charging for portraits.

Instead, she set up a GoFundMe page to benefit the Deerfield Community Center, should families wish to donate.

Dunnington said she chose the community center because of its significance in Deerfield — providing before-and-after-school care, senior meals, a food pantry and community-wide services.

DCC is “obviously the center point” of the community, Dunnington said. “My kids have utilized it for all 12 years we’ve lived here.”

Dunnington initially hoped to raise $1,000, a goal she early on called “far-fetched.”

As of March 30, 40 families had donated more than $1,500.

Dunnington had photographed over 50 families as of March 30, with more than 60 signed up. Her initial goal was 20 families.

“It’s been a joy, it’s been more than I think I could have ever imagined it would be,” she said. “I’m just overwhelmed. My heart is just so overwhelmed by the donations and support.”

Dunnington said the portraits are a way to document the COVID-19 pandemic locally, what this time was like for families in Deerfield and surrounding communities.

“It’s all about the moments and remembering this time, and everything we can about it,” Dunnington said. “To truly remember that we did stay in our comfy clothes every day.”

Interest has spread beyond Deerfield.

Couples, individuals and families with kids have been requesting portraits from Dunnington from all over the area – including Deerfield, Cambridge, Cottage Grove, Marshall, Stoughton, Sun Prairie and even Janesville.

The photos are taken from a distance, Dunnington said. She has families set up in their front yard, typically photographing them from the sidewalk, carefully practicing social distancing.

She doesn’t make extra trips out and about, and stands more than ten feet away from subjects, Dunnington said.

Dunnington said she hopes the project will bring some joy to her neighbors.

“I just wanted to spread some smiles and spread some love and give people a reason to come outside,” she said.

“My passion is photography. I want to still be able to feed my passion too, just to keep my spirits up,” she continued. “That’s exactly what it’s done.”

Each portrait is different, Dunnington said, just like each family.

Some subjects dress up, some stay in their comfy clothes. Some play in the yard, draw with chalk or pose on the farm. Whatever families want to do to remember this moment, she is fine with.

“Families are doing it because they want to remember how old their kids were,” she said.

Dunnington posts a photo from each session on social media, describing the family and their photo. She hopes one day to make the collection of photos into a book.

She said, in general, this has been a good moment to take family portraits. Kids are home from school, college students are back home and parents are often working from home.

“I was thinking about families who haven’t had a family picture taken since maybe their kids were little,” Dunnington said. “Families are all at home, they’re not missing a college student.”

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