Smiles From Stoops And The Stories They Tell

“It has become something so much bigger than what I thought it would be.”

At a distance of no less than seven feet, Andrea Chase-Cormier is helping the community of Sackville, New Brunswick stay connected, while creating sweet, fun souvenirs for families who have been cooped up during Canada’s mandatory social distancing this spring.

The project is helping to bring communities closer together at a time of great distance and uncertainty.

Chase-Cormier’s photography project Smile From Your Stoop is one example of “caremongering,” or act of goodwill during the coronavirus pandemic. While some Canadian distilleries have been creating hand sanitizer and many citizens have started doing grocery store runs for the elderly or immuno-compromised, photography from a distance has become another fast-growing caremongering trend.

Chase-Cormier was inspired by stories of other distance photography projects around the world. After she had a conversation with a minister, she felt the need to get out there and start snapping for charity. In lieu of payment, she asks her clients to make a donation to the food bank in Sackville.

“It just made sense,” Chase Cormier said in a phone interview Monday.

“It’s a win-win.”

Julie, Isla, Ivy and Harvey. Photo cred: Andrea Chase-Cormier.

The concept is simple. Chase-Cormier shoots pictures from the safe distance of a sidewalk or front path to document families who are alone together. She learns a bit about their life and writes a brief story to publish with the photos.

Then, she shares these photos on social media to not only remind people of their loved ones and communities but to show the public these moments of community-building – even from a distance.

At first, she thought that she would just be taking photos of her friends and acquaintances but Chase-Cormier is seeing the project take on its own kind of community spread.

A much more positive and kinder one.

Sackville area residents, even those who were strangers to her, have been so excited to be a part of it. You can see the support in the comment section of her social media page but Chase-Cormier also says she has been inundated with positivity and encouragement.

“People have been so excited to be a part of it – the response has been so overwhelming,” Chase-Cormier said.

The Scoggins family. Photo cred: Andrea Chase-Cormier.

While Chase-Cormier only set up her ACC Photography Facebook page when she started this project about three weeks ago, she is a self-taught photographer who has 12 years of professional experience in the industry, specializing in family and wedding portraits. Her skills speak for themselves. In fact, much of her clients have made their way to her via word of mouth from happy clients pleased with the photographic moments she has captured.

Of the roughly 70 photo shoots Chase-Cormier has had in the Smile From Your Stoop project, the majority have been families, or parents with their children. There have also been a few couples, pet dogs and even horses.

Austin and Ghayle Ibbitson. Photo cred: Andrea Chase-Cormier.

While all of the photos tell their own stories, the pictures of an older couple – the Ibbitsons – stood out to her as perhaps the most powerful. Their daughter, Tanya, had actually contacted Chase-Cormier to arrange the photo shoot. Tanya was stuck on the Nova Scotia side of the border, unable to visit her parents on the other side.

Further complicating the stressful situation, the family was dealing with other difficulties like a grandson in 24-hour care with juvenile Huntington’s disease and a granddaughter stuck in Australia with no way home.

“She told me… that she mailed them a card so that they would have something physical to hold on to, as they all miss their hugs so much,” Chase-Cormier wrote in the description of the photos on her project’s Facebook page.

Chase-Cormier also wrote that she remembered Austin Ibbitson as a local zamboni driver and a “genuine, kind soul” who is loved by all who know him. And that these two Ibbitsons, Austin and Ghayle, are “the glue that holds this family together.”

Another favourite shoot was one of the first she did for the project, when the minister who had encouraged her to start this had his family’s photos taken in heroic poses. The whole Swanson family had planned a superhero theme for the photos and were all sporting superhero t-shirts.

The Swanson family. Photo cred: Andrea Chase-Cormier.

Chase-Cormier isn’t letting the success of her project get to her head. She says she knows many other photographers around the world are taking similar porch photo shoots. In fact, she says she knows of some others even in New Brunswick doing the same kind of thing in other communities, like Moncton.

She has also heard that some other porch-style photographers are getting a bit of backlash from the public for taking photos during the pandemic. But, according to Chase-Cormier, a photographer she knows received official confirmation from the Canadian government that practicing this kind of photography is acceptable during social distancing so long as a distance is kept.

Still, Chase-Cormier says she has been amazed by the support and how fast her photography project took off.

“It has become something so much bigger than what I thought it would be,” she said.

For now, Chase-Cormier is taking a bit of a break from shooting and is focusing on post-processing and publishing the photos of the families she has already had the pleasure of capturing. At the end of April or early May, Chase-Cormier says she aims to start her second round shoots for Smile On Your Stoop, if, of course, the same social distancing measures are still in place similarly.

“Everyone is just looking for normalcy,” Chase-Cormier said.

“It’s my yoga – it makes me happy.”