When Michael Murphy was forced to shutter his Oakland Park studio in the wake of the coronavirus emergency, the commercial photographer wasn’t sure how he might survive.
The 61-year-old South Florida native had taken up portrait photography in 1990 and focused on corporate clients in the warehouse space for more than two decades.
He admitted, “I’m really an artist and not a businessperson and the fact that I’ve been in business and employed people for so long is amazing.”
Practically overnight, long-scheduled photoshoots and portrait sittings were cancelled and Murphy was forced to confront the reality that this might be long-term. He also realized an even bigger issue he would have to face is the emotional toll the self-quarantine might take.
“I knew I would have to find some sort of creative outlet if I was going to make it through this,” Murphy said.
On Facebook, he discovered from friends that photographers across the country were joining the Front Steps Project, launched in Massachusetts by Cara Soulia and intended to document this unique period in history as millions of people are confined to their homes.
Soon, Murphy was enthusiastically turning his camera to neighbors and friends, photographing them outside their homes – all while carefully observing social distancing.
“The purpose of this project is to bring us together when we might be feeling isolated, and to also bring some joy and outside time to our newly non-scheduled lives,” he explained.
Over the past three weeks, Murphy has been chronicling the lives of a diverse collection of local residents, striving to capture their unique personalities during this unforgettable time. Some portraits are more formal, while others are taken “paparazzi” style.
“People ask, ‘What should we do?’ and I tell them to do whatever they want. Share one minute of your existence with me. We have the muscle guys working out on their patio and a couple sharing martinis,” Murphy said. “Most importantly, this gives people a chance to step outside and breathe for a moment.”
Children and pets almost always steal the show, he recounted. Social media was buzzing over the family portrait of a local gay couple, their children, three dogs and pet chicken. Another portrait provided the opportunity for one family’s lesbian daughter to formally introduce her partner to the world.
And Murphy is especially proud of the non-traditional families he shot at Arc Broward, Carpenter House and Manor Lanes.
“I’ve never gone the normal route with anything I do,” he said.
While the pandemic will eventually pass and people will return to their normal routines, Murphy feels these portraits will serve as timeless reminders of the unique challenges our community faced and conquered.