TORONTO -- With his tripod set up on the sidewalk, a safe distance from his subjects in the era of physical distancing, photographer Erik McRitchie begins capturing the reality so many Canadian families are grappling with.

In one shot, a family stands at their front door with their noses pressed up against the windows, parents wide-eyed with frustration as their kids jokingly pound their fists on the door as if to say, “let me out.”

In the next frame, a young girl wearing a “birthday girl” crown grins as she sits on her front porch surrounded by balloons.

In another, a man and woman laugh as they enjoy a beer on the front steps.

“These are moments that in 20 years we’ll look back on and it will kind of define a generation,” the Calgary-based photographer told by phone.

“It’ll be really interesting to look back and remember this time in our history. It’s a unified struggle that we’re all walking through together which is really interesting.”

Like many Canadians, McRitchie, a brand photographer best known for his landscape photography on Instagram, recently found himself without work thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

With a little extra time on his hands, he used his volunteer connection with a community coalition to offer free family portraits to people in his neighbourhood. The result was overwhelming.

In the last week, McRitchie says he’s shot 25 families with another 40 in the queue.

“I’ve celebrated birthdays with people on their front steps—a 40th birthday for a lady the other night, a 5-year-old’s birthday the other day,” he said.

“We’ll get the nice posed family photo, but almost everybody wants to capture the real life; everybody staring at their screens, everybody fighting. It’s a picture of what life is really like now.”

McRitchie says the opportunity has allowed him to connect with people from all walks of life, including a family of newcomers from North Africa and a couple that just moved to Calgary from Nova Scotia.

“Before I even get my camera out I just start asking questions like, ‘how are you guys; are you sad about school being cancelled; what’s going on in your hearts,’ and people just start sharing,” he said.

“I’ve had a couple kids almost break down in tears about school being cancelled… they’ve had their whole world ripped out from under them right now and they’re reeling from that.”

But the photographer says the best part of the project has been finding ways to profile the happy moments of the current circumstances.

“In the middle of these photos sessions it would almost seem like there is nothing going on in the world—they forget about it for a minute. It’s been really interesting to see people laughing and smiling again, and being together as a family,” he said.

“I come home every single day just so encouraged.”

McRitchie, whose porch portraits were inspired by similar projects from other photographers around the world, says above all he hopes the posts inspire others to use their skills to connect with their community during this time.

“What I would really love to see is that this inspires others to ask how they can use their skills to make our communities better. We need that now more than we ever have,” McRitchie said.​

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