Family Life, Through A New Lens

Photographed by Danielle St. Laurent.
New York City photographer Danielle St. Laurent, who recently moved with her husband and two children to Maplewood, New Jersey, says that in the beginning of the shelter-in-place order, she worried about the long term effects of social isolation on kids. “I looked out my window and saw my neighbour’s son looking out the window for a long time, at nothing in particular,” she said. “It looked sad and lonely.” Though she tried to stay optimistic, St. Laurent said that it was hard to keep worry from creeping in. Like many of us, she grew concerned about how long this will last. 
 
As the weeks progressed and the kids in the neighbourhood stopped playing together, she started coming to terms with the severity of the pandemic. “Our boundaries got more defined and our world got smaller,” she said. “Day by day those lines were redrawn as new information came in.” 
 
To process the new normal of social distancing and isolation, St. Laurent began documenting the families in her neighbourhood. She visited people’s homes, taking family portraits from outside. “I want these portraits to show the forced closeness families are experiencing, the beauty and the tension and the separation from society.” 
 
The challenges of the project are unique; aside from logistical inconveniences of shooting a family from the sidewalk, the pane of glass separating the photographer and her subjects prevents that sense of closeness that usually makes portraits feel so intimate, and even vulnerable. But the magic of this series is that those feelings are there anyway; the windows offer a glimpse into lives that have only recently become so private and insular.
 
“Sometimes I would be at someone’s house waiting to do their portrait, and I could hear the kids crying and fighting, and the parents desperately trying to get their people to the window,” St. Laurent said. “We are all putting on our brave faces, sometimes crumbling, sometimes thriving. We are seeing life through a new lens.” 
 

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