How do we want to remember this unusual time that we’re living in?
Some people would rather forget it all, and who can blame them — it’s a time filled with massive anxiety and uncertainty. But some people, like Indianapolis photographer Gabrielle Cheikh, want to remember the positives, like spending time with family and finding beauty in sharing simple moments.
With her photo project, At Home: Family Portraits in Quarantine, Cheikh focuses her camera on two dozen Indy families — from a safe distance — to catch a glimpse of each family while they shelter at home.
What was the motivation behind your photo project?
I’m not the only one with this idea — it is a movement happening everywhere right now. But I thought to do it when my family and I were making breakfast together one morning. [My son] Charlie smiled at me in a way that I haven’t seen before, and it dawned on me that, even though what is happening is horrible and tragic and stressful, being able to slow down as a family, and spend a different amount of time together, was such a blessing. The more families that I talked to, the more I realized that a lot of us were learning how to connect with our family in a more intimate way.
My favorite part of my business is that I get to capture special moments for families. In that moment when Charlie smiled at me, I wished that someone was there to save that moment for us. These are the moments in my life that I want to save and remember forever. These are the moments that I want to capture for others. So, what a more unique time to capture that connection between a family than now?
I also wanted to find a way to somehow support my community during a time where I am unable to contribute financially or in a more physical way.
You chose to photograph families who live in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood. Why there, and how did you find families to participate?
I chose a neighborhood that I grew up in and where I have found some of my closest friends and community. It was a way to give back to those who have given so much to me. I posted a call-out to the Midtown Parents Facebook group. I was shocked by how many people reached out. I asked everyone who participated to make a personally comfortable contribution to Second Helpings as compensation for the images.
What can you tell us about the family who appears on our cover?
The Bracketts and I have a lot of history, so it’s fun that they were chosen for the cover. I have photographed their story since their engagement through their wedding, their girls’ first year and more. I was even at the hospital with them to photograph the birth of their second daughter. They are abundantly sweet and fun.
We are being encouraged to practice social distancing now. What kind of safety precautions did you take during your photo shoots?
During my typical family sessions, I really love to get close to my families to capture those sweet, intimate moments. Obviously, these shoots required a very different approach. All of my shoots were done from a safe distance of at least 10 feet or more with a long lens. Most of them were done from the street or curb to ensure that everyone felt comfortable and safe.
Even in the short time that I had with each family, we connected in a really unique way to these times. I learned so much about their families, the way they were coping, and a little of what their “normal” lives looked like within minutes. It’s been incredibly special to find this new little community through this project.
How are you and your family holding up during this time?
Although this unusual situation is causing some new stress in our lives, our family is, in some ways, thriving. My husband and I are both used to working from home with our toddler, so we haven’t suffered the shock of trying to balance work and children.
In some ways, this time is incredibly stressful financially because my [photography] business is vital for our family, and currently I am, in the financial sense, unemployed. It is a very scary time for my business. But we are trying to keep the faith that things will fall back into place once I can begin taking on jobs.
Because my usually busy shooting schedule is on pause, we are spending a lot of time connecting with friends and family, focusing on personal health, and making our home and garden a special place for our family. We are really trying to take this time to find the things that make our family come alive together, and figure out how we can maintain that when “normal” life resumes.
I feel pretty grateful in some ways for this paused moment in time to really enjoy every little moment with our son, who is changing by the hour these days.