The Nicest Place in Indiana: The Doorsteps of Central Indiana

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Pictures of Kindness"

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Families are coaxed out of quarantine for socially distant portraits that capture this moment in our history.

Wilmara Manuel’s family was just about ready to experience a moment of light during the darkness of COVID-19 lockdown, but then a teenager happened.

“Of course, my 19-year-old had to go back in and put on some lip gloss,” laughs Manuel.

Lip gloss acquired, it was time for the Manuel family’s close up. Like hundreds of others around the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville, Manuel had signed her household up for a project called At Our Doorstep, launched by a local photographer, Tiffany Stoner. The idea was to capture unvarnished images of quarantined families posing at their front doors, and thereby “share something about how American families are handling this,” Stoner says, of her and her brother’s version of a trend that swept America in the early spring.

When it was Manuel’s family’s turn and everyone was finally assembled, she knew something good had happened as soon as Stoner clicked the shutter.

“For a few minutes there, we had a moment of, ‘This is us,’” Manuel says.

The pandemic created a unique situation for Indiana families. “I don’t remember a time in my life when everyone was going through the exact same thing at the same time,” Stoner says. “I didn’t have to ask if they were going to be home because everybody was home.”

With time on her hands as COVID-19 shut down the weddings and other events she normally shoots for Nathaniel Edmunds Photography, Stoner realized that all she had to do to get great photos was ask families to stumble out the front door, pose in whatever they were wearing that day, and then stumble back inside. She wasn’t sure of the response, but after she posted the first few pictures online, the requests started pouring in.

“I never got so many emails in my life,” she says. “Hundreds and hundreds.”

Stoner drove all over, rarely spending more than a minute with any one family: “I never left my car,” she says. Altogether, Stoner took 635 portraits of families for the Doorstep project and raised over $7,000 for Gleaners Food Bank, donations made by photographed families who could afford to.

families on their doorstepsCourtesy Nathaniel Edmunds Photography (4)The result is a fascinating gallery of middle-class Midwestern life during shutdown, families in jeans and sweats and goofy T-shirts, gathered in front of their homes. Grinning moms and dads hug eye-rolling teens; smiling retirees hold hands beneath flowering trees; single parents and same-sex couples stand proudly alongside kids and dogs. Often, people were still in their pajamas.

Beyond the loving cheer the images portray, Stoner made a heartwarming discovery amid the horror of a deadly pandemic: For many families, the shutdown offered an unprecedented opportunity to slow down and get close. Freed of demands of normal life, families found all sorts of ways to entertain and support one another, Stoner says, and their gratitude shows in her images.

“I take pictures of families all the time, and it usually takes forever. The kids are a pain. Dad doesn’t want to be there,” Stoner says. “But this was weird. They were really into it! Even the dads.”

For Manuel, a dean at a local private school, Stoner’s photographs document a precious break from the demands of a busy life outside the home. One daughter is a ballerina, the other plays high-level lacrosse, and those schedules alone are enough to fill half the week.

“For a moment, we got to huddle with each other, and our family was reborn in certain way,” says Manuel.

Manuel’s is just one of many Black families represented in Zionsville, a town that’s nearly 90 percent White. With the George Floyd protests sweeping the nation, Manuel says such representation is more valuable than ever.

“People say, ‘I don’t see color.’ But we have to see color,” says Manuel. “Being seen is what’s going to move us forward. It says, ‘We’re here.’ We’re part of this fabric. And for this country, we’ve got to take care of all of us.”

The Nomination

Courtesy Nathaniel Edmunds Photography (4)

Our grandparents remember the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Our parents remember where they were when JFK was assassinated. We remember the day the twin towers collapsed. Our children will remember the pandemic that led to a global quarantine.

What all of these moments have in common, is that people became reconnected in the midst of a crisis. Families came together. They loved more. They appreciated more. They found their way back to simplicity and togetherness by tragedy. They are doing the same all over the world right now.

My brother, Nathan, and I are visual people. Images are deeply important to us because they tell stories. They tell our stories.

It is our desire to capture this time in history.

Nathaniel Edmunds Photography started a movement called #AtOurDoorstep

For several weeks, we have been photographing families all over Central Indiana – the Hoosier State – from the street (in our truck) at their doorstep.

Nothing glamorous. In their pajamas or comfy clothes. Showered or unshowered. Holding a newspaper. Eating a piece of toast. But holding tight to the people they love the very most.

There was no cost associated with this. However, we partnered with the largest food bank in Indiana – Gleaners Food Bank – to raise funds. They have seen a significant increase in the number of families they are servicing since the quarantine began.

To date, we have photographed 500 families, and raised $2000.

We also have showcased seven local restaurants that need the continued support of patrons ordering take out. We thought this was another way we could help – by supporting local business.

I am the wife of an Army Lt Col and the mother to four children. Considering what is happening all over the world, we are doing well. Everyone is handling this better than I anticipated.

This community is quite giving of their time and financial resources.

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