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Geneva photographer, journalist collaborate to tell story of 2020

It was March 2020 and Geneva households were staying inside. Stores were closed, businesses shuttered, schools taken to remote learning from homes. The strange quiet had most everyone a bit on edge.

And a bit missing each other as well.

Geneva photographer Jan Regan found a way around that loneliness. She started taking portraits of families who would come out their porches for a few brief, socially distanced moments. Armed with a camera, a monopod and a lens long enough that she couldn’t get too close, she began with friends, but soon found herself meeting people from across the city and photographing them for what became a daily Instagram post.

“People seemed to enjoy being captured in a photograph at this strange time behind closed doors,” says Regan. “I don’t remember anyone turning me down. No one went in to fix hair or put on makeup. Instead, those outside would gather up everyone else in the household and all would come on out to smile for me.”

Some appointments were made by email or text, but many were people Regan simply saw outside already gathered on their porches. “Often the people who didn’t expect to be photographed turned out to be provide some of the most authentic kinds of moments,” she notes. “They didn’t plan anything ahead of the shoot —and simply continued on as they had been while I took their picture.”

When the tension of the Black Lives Matter and countering Back the Blue rallies began, Regan continued to photograph all those suddenly coming off their porches and on to the streets. “For me the entire period was one of those rare times when you KNOW you are in the middle of history. The ‘big stores’ we are used to watching on the national news were playing out right here in our front yards. I was excited to be able to document that,” she says.

In the meantime, Chris Lavin was pondering his City and considering how it was faring with shutdowns and the often desperate needs of many, including the families he serves as Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club. A long-time journalist before accepting his position at the Club in 2005, he began drafting an essay assessing the City’s well-being, weighing in the City’s roots and recent history.

“I grew up in Geneva, but I had been away for over 20 years when I returned here to live. I came back to an amazing place, a city that had changed a great deal. It also seemed clear that small changes in the City and the Finger Lakes could put Geneva in a good position to emerge from all of this in a position of strength and positive growth.”

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

Lavin points to changes in the ways in which nonprofits organizations began working seamlessly together, and the engagement of the full diversity of the City in issues around race and policing. “Geneva was resilient throughout, despite its challenges.”

He also noted a summer of increased tourism, propelled by the growth of wineries and breweries. “The Finger Lakes has become a much-desired location. With its open spaces and potential for entrepreneurs, Geneva is poised increasingly as a destination, both for visitors and as a place to live.”

By the time things began cautiously opening in Geneva, Regan had photographed about 135 households and businesses, and amassed hundreds of images from her coverage of marches and rallies during the summer months. In discussing her collection with Lavin, a collaboration was born.

“The two elements are reflections on a period of Geneva’s still unfolding history,” says Regan. “The photographs are not necessarily illustrating Chris’s words, but they work together to document an unforgettable year.”

The book contains 69 photographs and includes Lavin’s essay in five parts. Regan wrote an introduction and captioned the images.

Tracking the subjects she had photographed to write captions presented its own challenges. “At least three people had actually moved to a new house or apartment since I had photographed them, and many families were just not at home,” she notes. “But catching up with people was another highlight of putting the book together. I got to hear their stories and a bit about how the pandemic impacted them. Those conversations really helped to fill out the book.”

Regan regrets that she could not include each and every portrait she captured, noting that she edited to represent specific aspects of what was happening, and how people were getting through this strange time. “There is enough left for a Volume Two!” she laughs.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva. The Club delivered over 70,000 meals to families in need during the time period the book illustrates.

#porchportraits: Pandemic, Protest and Peace in a Small American Town can be purchased through Regan’s website, and will soon be available in Geneva book and gift shops.