What does life look like under lockdown? That’s what local photographer Julie Collins wondered as each day ticked by the same as the last during quarantine.

Julie and John Collins pray with their four children (Hunter, 15; Tyler and Brody, 10; and Greyson, 8) while watching Mass on television. (Submitted photo)

Though she is unable to photograph her clients at this time, the Safer at Home order did not stop her from pursuing her passion to tell stories through photos. As she used her camera to chronicle her family’s story during quarantine, she got the idea to help others do something similar.

Collins, a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc in Nashotah, started a private Facebook group called JCP Storytellers for those interested in capturing their own quarantine story. She offered daily tips to members to help improve their photography skills and included a challenge word for each day as a motivational component of the assignment.

“One of the challenge words was ‘ritual.’ I knew I wanted to capture my own family’s experience with virtual church; so one Sunday after church, I set up my tripod and asked my family to say the ‘Our Father’ one more time together so we could have this keepsake,” Collins explained. “This image is one of my favorites of our quarantine story.”

Creating the photography group was a great distraction for the wife and mother of four children: Hunter, 15; Tyler and Brody, 10-year-old twins; and Greyson, 8.

“I love being a photographer and wanted to bring that passion to community members. As a former teacher, I also really enjoy teaching and thought I could bring those two skills together to help inspire others to focus on something positive during this time,” Collins said. “I also wanted to tell my own family’s quarantine story and thought it would be fun to do this in a group setting.”

To get her group started, Collins posted about the free photography challenge on her business social media channels and got a good response from those interested in participating. In addition to the daily inspirational word of the day, Collins also offered photography tips to help members improve their skills.

“Group members would use the word and tip to photograph anything they wanted to help tell their own quarantine stories,” she said. “I chose some of the words like ‘virtual,’ ‘water,’ and ‘connection’ based on what life looks like right now. I tried to choose words that were more outdoorsy on the weekends, expecting that some families might be enjoying nature more at those times. Some words I chose were to inspire the group members to try new things like different angles and lighting techniques. Still others were based on special events like Easter, Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day.”

Collins’ challenge brought the small Facebook community together and encouraged each member to continue making memories and capturing them during the time of quarantine. In addition to serving as a distraction, it has been an opportunity for everyone to take more pictures of their lives with intention and purpose.

“I plan to make an album of the daily pictures I took so that we are able to look back on this time when we begin to take things for granted once the stay at home orders are lifted,” she said. “I have caught glimpses of family members coming together around this project, making suggestions about what type of pictures to take. Group members have mentioned that, ‘this was my son’s idea,’ with some of their daily posts. I’ve seen that in my own family as well.”

Originally, the photography challenge was to last through the month of April, but when the Safer at Home order was extended, one of the group members reached out to Collins and asked if she would extend the challenge through the end of May. Collins agreed and produced another set of words for each day.

“This member said she planned to make a memory book out of the images she took of her family during this time so that any time she felt like she started to take things for granted, she could pull it out and remember what she can be grateful for,” explained Collins. “I love this idea and plan to do the same.”

Collins explained that the photography group has connected those with common interests who may not have known each other prior. They have all grown close and become supportive and positive of each other.

“All the members have become very positive during this quarantine time. I’ve seen them spending time with their families, enjoying the outdoors, starting projects, picking up old hobbies and embracing the way life has changed for them,” she said. “It has been a wonderful experience for us to get to know one another and lift each other up through the art of photography. Every one of us has a different story to tell and even though we all have the same words to work with each day, our images vary greatly. It’s creative fun at its best.”