The Porch-Rait Project

Sept. 17, 2020 — Oct. 25, 2020

A Community-Wide Initiative to Benefit The Open Door

In March of this year, early in the pandemic, photographers Jason Grow, Paul Cary Goldberg, Shawn Henry and Bill Sumner organized the Porch-Rait Project. Their aim was to persuade families to pose for photographs outside their homes and, in exchange, that families contribute to The Open Door, a nonprofit agency headquartered in Gloucester that helps those in need.

The first portraits were shot in early April, just a few weeks after the pandemic hit the North Shore. Over the course of a few short weeks, Jason, Paul, Shawn and Bill captured images of 245 families and raised just over $30,000 for The Open Door, an amazing accomplishment and a testament to the generosity of our community.

The portraits in the Porch-Rait Project show a range of families: parents with energetic youngsters, teenagers awkwardly being embraced by their parents, people isolating alone and in multi-generational pods. The portraits invite us to imagine what life might be like inside homes, behind parted curtains, beyond storm doors. And if you look closely, the photographs show hints of spring, of rebirth: hyacinth bulbs poking up through the earth, kids in bare feet and windows thrown open. As a whole, the images make us feel good about who we are and remind us of the comfort and familiarity of home. But the photographs do not show us everyone and they remind us of the disparities that exist among the many households that make up our beloved community. They remind us of those who are homeless, those who go without meals, and those who are forced to make painful decisions between paying the rent or paying for medicine. Although we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. And it is that awareness that was the genesis of the Porch-Rait Project, an acknowledgement that we all need to look after each other, particularly in times like these.

A selection of 40 photographs from The Porch-Rait Project were installed at the Janet and William Ellery James Center as the inaugural exhibition opening September 17, 2020 at the Cape Ann Museum Green. 

View the full set of 245 portraits here



About the Photographers

Bill Sumner—My interest in photography goes back to watching my dad convert the kitchen to a darkroom and print family photos. At college I got a degree in sociology and furthered my interest in photography. After college I moved to New York City and started a career as an advertising photographer. After 38 years, I retired and moved first to Vermont and then to Gloucester, where I now enjoy semi-retirement and keeping my hand in photography. I was in Australia with my son and granddaughter when COVID hit. After franticly rearranging flights we all escaped back to Gloucester. As the virus took hold, we could see that the need for family support was going to be deep. My ex-wife was working at The Open Door and I saw a story on a midwestern man doing free family portraits to promote his business. It was a no brainer, we could do portraits here and ask for a donation to The Open Door. A call to Jason Grow was all it took. He got some other guys involved and here we are.

Jason Grow—We set about this project with the intention of documenting this extraordinary period in our community and using it as an opportunity to generate support for The Open Door which serves so many in our neighborhoods. As much as this pandemic has massively disrupted our lives and our normalcy, it has also turned our attention back to our families, reminding us that during “normal” times, maybe we take them for granted. I think the combination of forced concentration and forced separation has given us a chance to rediscover just how critical our family connections are to each other. I have been an editorial and commercial photographer for 30 years and live in Gloucester with my wife, Sarah, and our three daughters, Matilda, Jemima and Maisie.

Paul Cary Goldberg—I had been looking at many of the early photographs from The Family Porch-Rait Project to benefit The Open Door as they were being posted on Facebook, when I realized, I would really like to be a part of this. I called Jason Grow, told him of my interest, and asked him if he could use another photographer. I am grateful that he said “Yes,” and that I was able to do my small part. Participating in this project has given me a way to express my love for Gloucester and our community, and it has given me the opportunity to celebrate and encourage kindness and hope in these very difficult times.

Shawn G. Henry—I photograph real people in real places for magazines and corporations. My subjects span a broad range: from a small family farm in the hills of Ethiopia to the first organic dairy in Vermont; from biolabs to boardrooms; from classrooms to hospital suites; and from presidents & CEOs to scientists and factory workers. I was born in California and studied journalism at San Francisco State University. I moved to Gloucester, my wife Catherine's hometown, over 30 years ago to start a freelance career. Over the years, my magazine clients have included Barron’s, Boston Magazine, Businessweek, Der Spiegel, Financial Advisor, Forbes, Time, National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal. Among my corporate clients have been AMG, Bank of America, Boston University, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Business School, Salesforce and Workday.


Download the press release


Image above: [detail] Jason Grow, The Open Door Remote Crew, Gloucester (2020). Archival inkjet print.

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