Lockdown ‘doortraits’: Dublin families step out for charity shots

Photographers are using the lockdown to document the lives of people living within 2km

Among the memories from this never-before time will be those of an extended period spent only in our homes, up close with our living companions. Those experiences are myriad, a concentrated, intense version of home life. Some photographers have been documenting those exhorted to stay at home, in various ways, and the results offer a snapshot – literally – of this period.

Katie Kavanagh usually takes lively, characterful photos of weddings. During the lockdown, the graphic designer and photographer is working from home, and in her off time she has been circulating within 2km of her home near Clanbrassil Street in Dublin 8 – ranging from Portobello to Kilmainham – taking photos of people in their doorways.

A couple of weeks ago she posted her plan in her local Facebook group and it has taken off since then, spreading through word of social media. She has done more than 50 Dublin "doortraits" so far and aims for about 200 portraits of people at their doors during lockdown.

As well as posting on social media groups she is “strolling around the streets of Dublin 8 and stopping people as I go. It’s been a great way to get to know the neighbourhood.” The fun and laid-back style of her wedding photography is echoed in the entrances as she tries “to bring out the personalities of the homeowners”.


“I’ve always wanted to do something with the interesting doors on the street and I thought now was the perfect time to do it,” she says. “Everyone has a story to tell. I keep bumping into my new pal Johnny– he’s painting his fence a couple of streets over and it’s a big undertaking.

"I loved meeting Róisín and Darcy with the pink door. Róisín has stage-four cancer and is being treated by St James's Hospital at home. Amy and Sam had their wedding photos taken on their front doorstep three years ago, so we recreated that with their baby Ben, dog Luna and their pals Mark and Una.

“Marie with the cat has five cats and has lived here for over 30 years – she’s known as the mayor of our area, nothing gets past her. Donald in the blue house is the Irish Times film critic, so we discussed which Marvel films weren’t terrible. I met a woman who’s lived in her house, an original artisan cottage, over 60 years.”

She’s raising funds for Purple House Cancer Support. Kavanagh’s sister’s nephew Nathan died last year, at the age of nine, from a brain tumour and Purple House supports his little brother Adam (eight) and Kavanagh’s nephew Matthew (10) with grief counselling.

On foot of Kavanagh's project, Purple House wants to create a gallery of 200,000 doortraits to support the 200,000 people living with cancer in Ireland - the public can take a photo of their family at their front door and email it to info@purplehouse.ie for its online gallery; anyone can text PURPLE to 50300 to donate €4. See katiekav.com and purplehouse.ie.

Family photos

Over in Dún Laoghaire, Sinéad Buckley Quinn of the Irish Design Gallery at Moran Park House and Dalkey-based commercial and landscape photographer Terry McDonagh (whose aerial prints sell through the gallery) came up with the idea of family photos in front gardens or at front doors, from a physical distance. "We felt it would be the perfect way to capture a glimpse into this little moment in time, where our days all feel the same, yet which we will never forget," says Buckley Quinn.

Families donate through Lockdown Shots for Charity at gofundme.com and all money raised goes to SVP, Aware and Alone.

Using the 2km-from-home app, McDonagh walks or cycles to the houses and snaps from a distance (the community initiative has been cleared with the Garda). Press photographer Paul Sherwood in Cabinteely has joined them, extending the possibilities of the 2km radius.

It has spread through word of mouth and social media. “We’re into our third week of shooting three days a week,” Buckley Quinn says. “We’ve booked over 140 shoots, with 90 completed, and raised over €4,200. It’s nearly a full-time job! We love it though. People are doing fun poses, using props or hiding the old grey roots with a cap! We’ve been blessed with fabulous weather so they’re incredibly sunny shots.”

Some local businesses – closed, or open with lines outside – also booked photo shoots.

Among those photographed are the Purcell family, all home at once for the lockdown, photograph outside their blue house in Dalkey, and Rathdown school principal Brian Moore, Cliona and their children – Louisa was the first baby born to a principal living on campus in the Glenageary school. Another striking shot shows three generations of the same family, living in three storeys of an apartment block by the sea: Maeve in the middle with her son Gerry's family above and daughter Denise's family below.

Other photographers in Ireland are similarly documenting home during lockdown in various ways, including Emilija Jefremova's doorstep portraits in Galway – see @EJefremova.

Lives inside

Photographer Ruth Medjber takes a slightly different approach, photographing people through their lit-up windows, offering evocative glimpses of interior lives during lockdown. "Each evening, I've been popping out with my camera at twilight," she posted. "I visit neighbours and friends (new and old) and capture their lives at home during this unique moment in time. It's been such an immense joy hanging out with you, on the really tough days I always looked forward to these shoots."

Medjber usually shoots music festivals such as Electric Picnic and Glastonbury and music tours (she has just finished touring Europe with Hozier). "Touring means around 9pm you get yourself geared up and shoot like crazy. The adrenaline is intense and addictive and it's probably why I started this project – to fill the 9pm void!" she says. "I kept trying to think of ways I could take portraits while keeping distant.

“I’m also super nosey. I love having a goo into people’s homes when the light is on at night. The windowsills act as picture frames, and the interior of the home is the canvas. It’s amazing to see how two homes could be built the same but are made to look so different by the people inside.”

She has shot 16 homes “and counting”. “Each night I take some more. I can only fit in one or two per evening as the light disappears so quickly. I’ll keep going for as long as Covid-19 does.”

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times