On Sunday, photographer Erielle Bakkum completed ten portraits (or “porchraits” as she calls them) of families stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdown.
That brought her total to 102 portraits made in and around Hyde Park since April 7, when Bakkum started her portrait project to raise funds for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She thought she would be lucky if she reached her goal of $2,500; she raised four times that amount.
Bakkum makes her portraits outside her subjects’ homes as they stand on a balcony or porch, in an entry way, or sit on the front steps. She stays at least ten feet away and moves quickly. Each session takes only a few minutes.
“I really wanted to keep photographing,” Bakkum said as she spoke about how she had responded when all of her business’s scheduled photo shoots were cancelled or postponed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Even if I didn’t make money.”
“I truly believe that a family photo is essential,” said Bakkum, “because, you never know, as morbid as it sounds, you never know when a family photo is going to be your last one.”
Bakkum’s mother and father, an engineer, constructed playgrounds around the country, which caused their family to move from place to place. “When I moved to Chicago in 1997, Chicago became then, like, the longest place I’ve lived anywhere,” she said.
A violist as well as a photographer, Bakkum has been a Middle School Orchestra teacher. She and her family, which now includes three children, have lived in Hyde Park for about 18 years.
“We came here so my husband could do his Ph.D. at the university and we just never left,” she said. “I love it so much, hopefully we never will.”
Bakkum had heard that some photographers around the country were photographing families stuck at home during the COVID-19 lock-down, and that they were donating some or all their proceeds to non-profit service providers that helped people in need during the pandemic. She thought about doing the same.
“I thought maybe it would be too unsafe. I didn’t think people would be very enthusiastic about it,” she said. “But then … I said, ‘Well if they’re doing it, then I want to do it, too.’”
When asked why she chose the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) as the recipient of her project’s proceeds, Bakkum said: “Well, I really like eating. It’s like my favorite part of my day, um three or four times a day. And, it brings my family together.”
“And, the thought of people not being able to feed their children, it really saddens and terrifies me, so, I chose them.”
“At first, I had a goal of … $2,500,” said Bakkum. “I was like, ‘$2,500, if I reach $2,500 and I can donate that, that’ll be amazing’.
“So, I just sent out one email to people, to clients, my clients. And I started with that. And then, as more people started signing up, and I was like, well, OK, let’s make it $5,000.
“After about a week I put it out on Facebook, and then, I think, it just started spreading, word of mouth. About a week after my Facebook post, I put it out on GoodNeighbors, to try and get it up to that $10,000.”
On April 24, Bakkum drove with her children to the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) and delivered a $10,000 check to Kate Maehr, the GCFD’s executive director.
Maehr met with Bakkum and her children, “from six feet away,” and showed them a little bit of their building and talked with them about what they do.
“Donations like Bakkum’s go directly toward helping our neighbors in need,” wrote Greg Cotter of the GCFD. “The Food Depository can buy food at scale and therefore make dollars stretch. Every one dollar is the equivalent of three meals.”
“We are so very grateful for Erielle’s generous donation,” said Maehr. “We are facing unprecedented challenges during this pandemic. Many of our neighbors are hurting and hungry. Erielle’s gift is a powerful example of the creativity and compassion that are so necessary during these difficult times.”
Bakkum will make 12 more portraits on April 28, and then her project will be complete.
She reflected on a couple of things about the project. “I learned how to make a good family photo in 25 seconds,” she said, and, in response to the generosity of the community, “Thank you to the families. It was so great.”
Bakkum’s front porch portraits can be seen at eriellebakkumphotography.com.
Donations to the Greater Chicago Food Depository can be made at chicagosfoodbank.org.