When he was moving from Philadelphia to the suburbs in the late 1990s, Kevin Monko had one item on his suburban wish list: “a nice porch.”
He and his family ended up in Collingswood, N.J., in a house with a sunroom and “a big stoop,” but no porch. Porches still matter to the photographer and musician, who cofounded the town’s annual Porchfest, which last fall brought more than 70 bands to porches, decks, lawns, and other scattered venues.
When his photography work abruptly dried up a few weeks ago in the wake of pandemic-related shutdowns, Monko turned to porches again, offering to photograph Collingswood residents for a project he calls Drive-By Porchraits.
The porch part is just a coincidence, he said.
“I just thought it’d be an interesting way to document what’s going on, you know, that people are hunkering down,” Monko said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Who are they? Who is everybody at home with? Let’s get them outside, we can maintain the social distancing. I swear, I’m going to stay in the car.”
The result: a growing collection of black-and-white portraits that capture individuals, couples, and families at a moment when leaving our homes — or letting others inside — is discouraged.
He’s still figuring out how he’d like present the work, “whether it’s a book, gallery show, slide show on the side of a building that people can view from their cars or a safe distance, or all of the above.”
His subjects offer various reasons for participating, Monko said. “They feel it’s historic. They feel like they’ve been putting off a family photo for too long and now’s really the time to do it. Somebody was actually worried, like, ‘I could lose a family member or they could lose me.’”
Others, he said, just feel like, “God, it would be great to have something fun to do.”
On Tuesday, Monko stopped his silver Subaru Forester across the street from his neighbors Michael Rogowski and Adrienne Gainer and photographed them standing on their porch with their dog, a lively goldendoodle named Hudson, with and without masks. Missing from the picture: the couple’s two teenagers, who backed out at the last minute, choosing to remain inside.
“I gave them that whole speech” about being part of history, but to no avail, Rogowski said in a phone interview Wednesday.
His own reasons for participating? “Kevin’s cool. I’m always up for whatever he wants to do.” Monko, he said, liked their house.
The photographer hasn’t established a set fee for his “porchraits.”
What he tells prospective subjects, Monko said, is, “We’ll take some pictures, I’ll deliver the pictures to you. And I’ll give you my Venmo information. And if you want to throw some money in there, great ... But if you’re not working, you’re financially strapped, like a lot of us are, don’t let that be the reason to not get the picture. I’ll still come take the picture."
He declined to describe the range of what people have paid, for fear of making anyone feel bad. “The people who gave more, as I hoped, it kind of subsidized the people who don’t. And I feel like it’s a community service," he said.
Plus, it’s getting him out of the house, if not out of his car.
“Everyone’s complaining that they can’t get together with their friends ... I get to go out and meet people all day long," he said. "I’m photographing friends. I’m making new friends.”