New Caney photographer captures families' lives on front porch in time of COVID-19

Courtney Fischer Image
Saturday, April 4, 2020
Front Porch Project shows families' new normal in Houston area
From silly to emotional, a New Caney photographer captured just how powerful one moment in time can be.

NEW CANEY, Texas (KTRK) -- Our lives are changed forever. Our kids go to school at home. We work from our kitchen tables. We don't go to restaurants, shopping malls or the movie theater. Some of us hoard toilet paper and Lysol. Many of us are nervous to go to the grocery store.

This is the new normal.

Photographers across the country are capturing this new life in a series called "The Front Porch Project," photos of families on their doorstep, showing life in the time of COVID-19.

Last week, Linda Gonzalez, a photographer in New Caney, contacted her neighbors to see who wanted to participate. She thought a few families might be game. She was overwhelmed by the response.

More than 50 families in her Tavola neighborhood wanted to be a part of the photo series.

Linda captured families on their bikes, a new mom and dad with their baby waving from the driveway, a father holding a sign that read "Essential Worker, No Days Off," standing in the garage, while his daughters sat in the house, staring out a window.

There were couples standing on stacks of paper towels, a mother and daughter holding Clorox wipes, and a man shooting toilet paper out of a homemade cannon.

"I'm going to call him the toilet paper guy," Linda told ABC13 over Facetime. "Some of them, when we pulled up, we just laughed hysterically."

When Linda took the pictures, she had had a few rules: stay near your front door while she snapped photos front the street. Her friend Mable drove Linda through the neighborhood in an open-air Jeep.

"And I told them that if they were going to participate, one of the main rules was do not go out shopping for new clothes," Linda said. "I mean, we have a lot of things, you just have to get creative, you know?"

To make sure she wasn't breaking any rules, Linda says she called the Montgomery County sheriff, who told her if she followed social distancing rules, the photo shoot would be fine.

Linda went from house to house capturing smiling babies and silly scenes, and then she pulled up to Ralph Ruiz's driveway.

"I see him sitting at the corner of a table, and I looked down at Mable and Mable looked at me and her words to me were: 'Wow.' And I told her, 'I don't know if I can do this,'" she said.

Ralph sat at a card table with dinner in front of him. His head was down and candles were lit. He was alone. In the foreground, his wife's nurse scrubs hung on a hanger with a badge and worn-in tennis shoes.

"It represents our normal right now. It's our reality," Ralph said via Facetime.

Ralph's wife, Xyrene Sayama, is a nurse at LBJ Hospital, working 12 to 13 hours a day. The couple has only been married three months. For the past three weeks, Xyrene has been social distancing, sleeping downstairs when she gets home from work. They haven't had dinner together in a long time.

"Eating dinner and her not being there is what I wanted to portray," Ralph said.

Xyrene didn't know Ralph had the photo taken until he tagged her on Facebook, and the photo was shared more than 500 times.

"I just started to cry because I didn't realize that these past couple weeks was that hard on him," Xyrene said over video call, sitting next to Ralph, during the first 24 hours she had off in weeks.

"It's a powerful message. The picture is really powerful. That's what I want people to see," Ralph said.

He also wants people to take social distancing more seriously. He doesn't understand why some of his friends are still hanging out together at the pool or having crawfish boils.

"I want people to be more responsible," he said.

Ralph Ruiz’s emotional photo of his empty dinner table went viral online. He shares the story behind it with ABC 13’s Courtney Fischer.

"It makes you realize what others go through," Linda said. "He's married to a wife that puts her life on the line every single day when she goes to work."

Linda says she plans to do more projects like this to keep people smiling during this uncertain time. She doesn't charge for the photos because her photography business isn't considered essential right now. Instead, she accepted donations, and raised more than $200 to buy PPE for local hospitals. She says Ralph's photo will stay with her forever.

"In reality, you can put anybody in those two positions. It can be a firefighter and his wife. It can be a police officer and her spouse. It can be somebody that's a postal worker. There are so many positions that people hold right now that are essential for our community, to keep us safe and to keep us running," Linda described.

See Linda's "Front Porch Project" photos here.

Follow Courtney Fischer on Twitter and Facebook.