The pandemic brought life to a standstill for many Calgarians during the lockdown, and for Neil Zeller, it also brought his livelihood to an abrupt halt.
A slew of cancelled work led the Calgary photographer to question how he would provide for his family.
"I received a number of emails from clients saying, 'we're done for this year, we can't proceed with our major event,'" Zeller said.
"I travel and tour people around the world at Photography Adventures, and since nobody was flying anywhere, and people were locked down, those were cancelled. And I needed a way to make a living."
However, artistic inspiration eventually struck Zeller in quarantine — and the photography project he embarked on has now culminated in an exhibition at the Glenbow Museum.
He started taking pictures of families and people posing on their porches and through windows, and in so doing, preserved an artifact from a strange time for more than 650 Calgary families.
"The first couple of people … were just so excited to have something different to do, rather than watch the news reports and the press conferences online," Zeller said.
"And from that moment on, I made it a pact with myself to make sure that these portrait experiences for the people on their front steps were 100 per cent positive moments that they could possibly look back on."
Starting Saturday, a selection of Zeller's photographs will be displayed in Porchraits: Calgary Families in Isolation During COVID-19.
Yellowknife photographer inspires project
The idea came after Zeller saw the work of documentary photographer Pat Kane on Twitter.
Kane had captured portraits of Yellowknife locals through windows and in isolation as the town shut down.
"I immediately jumped off of my chair in the house, in my home office, and texted a friend down the street and took photos and posted them online," Zeller said.
"I knew it was a good idea right away … and I just decided to dive into it for Calgary."
The project was run by donations so that Zeller could make a living, while also ensuring any family could take part.
His subjects were enthusiastic about the photos from the start, and Zeller said that it was apparent in the way they dressed — some were eager for an excuse to get dolled up, while others were determined to represent the quirks of pandemic-living.
"People dressed up, they were in pyjamas," Zeller said. "Parents who are working from home that had full suits on the top, and shorts and sandals on the bottom. Because that's [what] you Skype in these days, right?"
Glenbow takes notice
Eventually, Zeller was booked solid, darting from house to house to capture families all over Calgary.
He never imagined that a museum would take notice, let alone the Glenbow.
Now the exhibition is happening — something he still hasn't quite grasped.
"I don't think the true impact is really set in for me yet. It's one of these things as a photographer, when I started my business seven years ago, that I don't think I could have even dreamed of it," Zeller said.
"The great Glenbow is a premier artist outlet for the best of the best. And prior to the pandemic, there's no way I would have even considered it. It's something I couldn't have even imagined."
The Glenbow is open from noon until 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Porchraits: Calgary Families in Isolation During COVID-19 is expected to run through October.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.