By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
When COVID-19 cancelled the majority of wedding photographer Audra Wrisley’s gigs, she didn’t let it drain her creativity.
Suddenly finding herself with a lot of free time, Wrisley teamed up with her husband, Matthijs Maruanaya, and embarked on an effort to capture a snapshot of their neighborhood, Parkfairfax, during the pandemic.
“I started to get really interested in how everybody’s living their new lives inside,” Wrisley said. “I usually don’t have a lot of extra time to do personal projects when I’m in [wedding] season, so I really enjoyed kind of branching out and doing something different.”
Together, the couple roamed the neighborhood, Wrisley photographing neighbors through their windows and storm doors, and Maruanaya interviewing them about their history in the community.
The final product, captured on analog film and titled “Portrait of a Community,” is a collection of black and white portraits of a variety of subjects: old people, young people, families, individuals and pets. Some are sitting, some are standing, some are looking at the camera and some are looking at each other.
While the people vary, the common thread is that each photo is taken from the outside looking in, offering a glimpse into the subjects’ lives, framed by doorways and windowpanes and tinted with reflections in the glass.
Since her goal was to capture people in their natural environments, Wrisley worked to keep the photo shoots as unposed and informal as possible.
“I’m really used to giving people a lot of direction and picking out great lighting and non-cluttered spots, and, of course, that’s really not what this project was about,” Wrisley said. “[It was] more just capturing what’s going on indoors.”
Wrisley found some of her subjects by posting about the project in a Parkfairfax Facebook group. Others, she asked in passing on the street.
“I was standing outside talking to a friend outside one of the units, and I noticed that [Wrisley] and I think it was her husband and her child, were taking a photo of a unit on the other side of the street behind the storm door,” Parkfairfax resident Anne Durso said. “When she was finished … she told us about the project and said, ‘Do you want to be part [of it]?’”
One of Wrisley’s goals for the project was to capture an accurate representation of the people who live in Parkfairfax, which is a condominium community composed of 1,684 units and located near the Alexandria/Arlington border.
“It was a really nice representation of the neighborhood and the people who make up the neighborhood,” Emmie McMackin, one of Wrisley’s subjects, said. “There are some young families … so you do see little kids running around. Then, there are people like me, who live alone. There are couples. It’s a really kind of nice mix of everyone. I think it’s a fairly diverse neighborhood too, both racially and age.”
Wrisley said she enjoyed shooting families, but she was most intrigued by the individuals and how they were coping with the pandemic and quarantining.
“People that are living on their own, I ended up chatting with them probably the longest of everybody,” Wrisley said. “We have a toddler and a dog, and things are crazy at home, but for people who are on their own, I think it’s been a really challenging time in a different way.”
Another of Wrisley’s goals for the project was to create a sense of community among Parkfairfax residents.
“Even though the participants in each various household didn’t communicate in person, I think all being part of the same project and sharing some of that on the Parkfairfax Facebook page sort of fostered a sense of community, kind of in a weird, but new, way,” McMackin said.
Dave Bush, a Parkfairfax resident of 65 years, said he was inspired by the photos themselves.
“I thought it was great,” Bush said. “I really did. People in all kinds of garb and all kinds of positions and all of them seeming very hopeful about the future, which is what I’m really concerned about with what’s going on in the country today, whether we still retain our hope for a better life.”
Wrisley said she’s curious to see what kind of art and creative projects the pandemic produces.
“I do think that amazing creativity comes out of turmoil and stress and fear and terrible things, so I am hopeful that the arts world will be able to produce some amazing works through this time,” Wrisley said.
The full “Portrait of a Community” gallery is available at https://galleries.audrawrisley.com/gallery/portraitofacommunity/.