Arts & Culture People

At Home in the Community: The North West photographer taking portraits and giving back

Words: Hannah Molyneux

As the country begins to close its doors once more, it seems strange to think that, for so many weeks, our worlds have ended on our doorsteps. This year so far has been fraught with unease and uncertainty for many of us, with the ‘stay at home’ message changing our lives overnight. But that’s not to say that 2020 hasn’t also had its moments of joy, a realisation that Warrington-based photographer Kate Hennessey came to when she began her doorstep portraits back in May.

With lockdown and days spent at home becoming a reality for both of us, Kate spent time in her local community, documenting daily life in a pandemic. “It began with requests from local friends and clients,” she tells me, “marking and celebrating occasions like weddings that had been postponed.” Over the course of the month, Kate would go on to visit and photograph over 200 families on their doorsteps. “Overwhelmed doesn’t come close, and I have never been prouder to call myself Warringtonian,” says Kate. It was a real labour of love, with hours spent not only photographing and editing but also travelling around the area. “It was inclusive across the whole of Warrington. I visited so many streets that I’ve never been to before and planned so many routes – I could be a taxi driver now!” Kate laughs.

The subjects are all different, but the warmth that shines out of each photograph is just the same. Candid, unposed – each photo captures the real emotion in the lives of ordinary families finding reasons to smile through uncertain times. Kate reflects how, for lots of the people she photographed as part of this campaign, their doorstep portrait shoot was a welcome opportunity to shake off their pyjamas and sweatpants and embrace the idea of hair and makeup for the first time in weeks.

“It felt like quite a traditional thing to do, something that previous generations might have done,” says Kate. “Especially the newborn pictures – introducing them to the world on the doorstep of their home.” Kate’s doorstep portraits offer a glimpse into daily life during a global pandemic – the smiling faces of children missing their school friends but staying cheerful; the flags and bunting of VE Day celebrations. Some reflect the reality of the time: “I’ve had a lot of requests from doctors and nurses, and you could tell they were physically shattered.”

With requests for portraits flooding in, Kate realised that, by photographing the community, she could give something back to that same community. Each shoot took place in exchange for a donation to Warrington Foodbank, totalling an amazing £4000 from an original target of £250. “What is usually a space for community members to come and receive advice” – the foodbank runs a full range of services including facilities like debt counselling – “is now a sea of welfare packages. They have had to scale back volunteer support due to COVID guidelines, yet they are far more inundated than they have ever been before. The funds we have collectively raised will go a long way and are hugely appreciated. They are raring to get back to some sort of normality and support those who need it most, not just with food parcels but with a safe place to go to chat to a friendly face.”

I ask Kate what it is that she will take away from the doorstep portraits she has taken and the families she has met. “Solidarity and community. I’ve never felt so much of it.”

Find more of Kate’s work on Instagram @clickedbykate and clickedbykate.com.

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