Documenting Our New Normal
Story by McKaila Ruud
Photography by M.Schleif Photography
People around the world are staying home, washing their hands, and keeping their distance from others in an effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus, or COVID-19. While Fargo-Moorhead has not experienced this infection at the magnitude that some areas around the country are, we are still doing our part to keep ourselves and our neighbors healthy. This dramatically changed how many of us live our lives. From restaurants switching to take out only, employees working from home, and parents learning to homeschool, practically everyone is affected in some way. Globally, many artists have taken to their trade to find relief or to make sense of this time.
THE SOCIAL DISTANCING PROJECT
Local photographer, Morgan Schleif, of M.Schleif Photography, was inspired by a photography project on social media and felt that it could help her make sense of this time and bring her fellow Fargoans some joy during such a difficult transition. Morgan decided to bring The Social Distancing Project, a documentary photography project, to Fargo. On March 27th and 28th, Morgan spent her entire day traveling around to houses, apartments, and local businesses to photograph people through their window. It is worth noting that a major part of the fight to treat and stop the spread of Coronavirus, healthcare workers and others on the frontlines, was not documented as a part of The Social Distancing Project as to not interrupt the important work they are doing. The Project’s goal was to document how our community is adapting to this new normal and lift up those who are making an effort in their own way to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
The Social Distancing Project originated with Morgan’s friend and fellow photographer Caroline Axvig, of Caroline the Photographer. She runs a photography company in the greater Boston, Mass. area. That area of the country was experiencing social distancing guidelines much earlier than us in the Midwest. After two weeks of work-from-home guidelines, Caroline found herself missing photography, searching for a way to document this time and needing to fulfill her extroversion with some human interaction. She started The Social Distancing Project with sessions in four cities near Boston. She photographed through windows and up to balconies to document how people are adapting to these times and staying home.
Residents and businesses in Fargo could participate in The Social Distancing Project by following a scheduling link and signing up for a 15-minute timeslot via M.Schleif Photography’s social media pages. The sessions were open to the public at no cost and filled in a matter of about four hours. Morgan spent two days photographing 33 businesses and families throughout Fargo and West Fargo. This project was photographed from a large distance away from the subject and through a window, so Morgan talked with the subjects over speakerphone to give direction during each photo session. Safety was carefully considered when photographing the subjects. Morgan shot with a 70-200mm macro zoom lens which allowed her to capture people in their homes and businesses while she stood at the edge of their yard or across the street.
Families jumped on the chance to be a part of the Project and each gave a unique look into what life at home looks like for them. Families came to the front door in cozy clothes, kids showed off their #aworldofhearts windows in superhero costumes and started nerf gun wars, couples cheered to local breweries on their balconies, and people posed with their roommates, pets and plants. While she was photographing, Morgan realized that everyone seemed to need this project as much as she did.
So many of the participants expressed how remarkable this time was for them and their family and how much joy it brought them to see another human in their yard. Participants shared why they wanted to be a part of the project or what they have learned during this time at home:
"This has personally been a time to reflect and focus on what I’m truly thankful for, and what matters. Everyday life is beyond busy, and maybe we needed this forced time to slow down and breathe.”
“We are often trying to shift our minds to the positive things that may come of this- the new ways we engage with each other, the lessons we learn, the ways we support one another, and the opportunity to slow down. This project highlights this moment in time that will change so much about how we connect.”
“For the first time as parents, we've finally had time to do the family things we felt like we never had time to do. As challenging as this has been, we're also grateful. In many ways, it's felt like our kids are getting a glimpse of my own childhood. Growing up on a farm, we leaned on each other. When we got bored, we didn't get to run off to a friend's house in town, we were forced to get creative and use our imagination with what we had. I really didn't think my kids would ever have that type of experience."
"We’ve been so encouraged by the support of the Fargo-Moorhead community! Both from regulars who have grown to love our coffee and waffles, to people who have never tried our shop until now, we are feeling loved as people come together and support local businesses!”
M.Schleif Photography typically works with many small businesses in the FM area, so she was inspired to open The Social Distancing Project to businesses as well as residents. The current times are causing most businesses to change how they operate. Businesses large and small are sending people home to work remotely, retail shops are turning to online selling, and restaurants are turning to take out and delivery options. Morgan’s goal was to uplift these businesses and showcase the ways they are remaining up and running during this time.
“It has been beautiful to see people pivot so dramatically, it’s caused so much creativity, innovation, and inspired such community support. I wanted businesses to have these photos to promote what they are offering now. That was really important to me.”
While Morgan’s usual work is often with families or small businesses, The Social Distancing Project is still very different from what she’s used to. She currently is not taking on any in-person client work until it is safe to do so again, because she is usually much more immersed in what she is photographing. You could often find her standing in a large crowd at an event, playing with kiddos during a family session, spending time with a couple throughout their entire wedding day, or inside a home or kitchen taking some of the photos you see in this magazine.
The Social Distancing Project was meant to highlight the impact that coronavirus and social distancing have had on our daily lives. During the photo sessions and after the photos were shared, many people expressed how much joy these photos have been able to spread. It is Morgan’s hope that they can be a reflection of this time in our community, a reminder that all of us are in this together, and encouragement to keep up the social distancing, hand washing, and other precautions to protect the health of everyone in our community.
FOLLOW THE PROJECT:
You can find more photos from The Social Distancing Project on M.Schleif Photography’s Facebook and Instagram pages, Caroline the Photographer’s Facebook and Instagram pages, or by searching the hashtag: #thesocialdistancingproject
For more information, contact:
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