Photo credit: Michelle Schmidt, Michelle’s Portrait Design

In mid-March when COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders came down from Governor Tim Walz, a paradigm shift occurred that this generation had never before experienced. The streets were virtually empty. Restaurants and the majority of businesses were closed. Parents adjusted to being home 24/7. Kids were stir crazy from school, activity and friend withdrawals.

As time lapsed, a few people ventured out into the community against the stay-at-home mandate when the Minnesota pandemic casualties weren’t compounding at the rate seen in other states or around the world.

Like many, photographer Michelle Schmidt (Michelle’s Portrait Design) needed to do something productive, she was compelled to make a difference. So in late March, to thank and encourage residents to stay safe by staying home, she reached out to residents and offered to document their efforts with a keepsake portrait marking this unique time in history. With these community members’ blessing, Michelle took photos from a distance outside their homes. “We shared this movement to communicate we are all in this together,” Michelle said. “It was a combined effort to encourage neighbors, friends and family to stay safe. To stay home.”

Michelle didn’t anticipate the lessons these people would share with her. “They were finding joy in the little things,” Michelle wistfully reflected. “They were able to spend time with each other as a family without being rushed. Many of these families’ normal was rushing home from work, eating a fast food meal before rushing to kids’ sports (or other) activities, going home, going to bed and doing it all over again. Now that everyone was forced to be home, they had time to eat a home cooked meal together, to play games and to just enjoy one another’s company. This became the daily routine.”

In addition to family time, many told Michelle they were working out again, they were watching what they ate and trying to make better choices. The couples who didn’t live with kids were also spending more time together, an adjustment especially for those whose jobs required travel.

Staying home also meant keeping essential workers safe so they were able to work as required or necessary. Having a family portrait for them was equally important as they were often not able to be together during quarantine.

“Within the photography industry, it has been mentioned on multiple occasions that this period of time will be a generation of lost memories. We’ve saved photos on CDs, now Facebook and Instagram – everything eventually goes away as technology advances. One day those memories may disappear because they are recorded on something that may not be retrieved, but many of these families were able to have this time together forever preserved in a physical photograph.” There was a realization of the importance of documenting their family’s history, and just how overdue they were in having a family portrait – the timing was ideal now that everyone was finally together.

Michelle paused, then thoughtfully stated, “Everyone I photographed said they had become a family again. What is the takeaway? What will we do to change so we don’t fall into that other rut again?” Time will tell. “Everything has a silver lining. Even COVID-19.”