Updated: August 26, 2020 05:59 PM
Created: August 26, 2020 03:36 PM
FAIRPORT, N.Y. (WHEC) — Jess Kamens has always loved photography. She honed her skills while teaching in Fairport, inspired by a photography teacher there.
"And I jumped in on a few classes and listened and started to learn," she said.
Kamens took what she learned, packed up her lenses and decided to explore the world for a decade before returning to Rochester in 2016 when she started Jess Kamens Photography. Her business specializes in weddings, studio portraits and business branding.
"What I love about business branding is that every business is completely different," she added.
And she had lots of work — that is until COVID-19 came to town in March and temporarily shut her business down. But she kept busy, doing what she always does, taking pictures.
"Within a few days of being in quarantine, one night I was thinking, I thought, this might be my chance to actually give to the community a little bit and this is the moment," she said.
She packed up her 5-year-old daughter in the car and they started driving through neighborhoods, photographing people outside their homes.
"I went to a few friends first and took their picture and a couple people on my street and posted it and the response was incredible," she said.
Kamens says she received more than 700 requests and spent the next several weeks documenting people's pandemic lives. For Kamens and her subjects, it was liberating.
"It was meaningful for them to capture that and say, yes, this was quarantine. This was in the heart of the pandemic, the very beginning. This is how we felt. And yes, my hair might have been a mess, and yes, maybe we were in pajamas, but that was our life at that moment and that's our real family."
Some of the photos are staged, others are more natural. Expressions of worry and joy, resiliency and closeness... all brought on by the uncertainty of an unknown virus.
"All of a sudden I started to think, there's a really big story here and I want people to know what it felt like to create them," she said.
Kamens realized those stories needed to be told in a book.
"For example, there was a woman who lost her grandmother the night before we took her portrait to COVID and she wrote me after the portrait was taken to tell me what a meaningful moment it was for all of them and they were thinking of her."
Kamens is still looking for a publisher for the book. In the meantime, her business is back open and she says she has some big projects on the horizon. And when the porch portrait documentary is eventually published, Kamens says she hopes to one day do a reunion with all the families she photographed.
"I want somebody to look back in 150 years and say, this was the pandemic. This is what people looked like in Upstate New York because you can look at their eyes and look at their expressions and feel it."
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