Coronavirus heroes: Photographer takes free family portraits through the windows | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.05.2020
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Coronavirus heroes: Photographer takes free family portraits through the windows

The coronavirus lockdown has hit Theresa Rooney's photography business hard. Now instead of photographing weddings, she's making family portraits — through windows.

Ana and her husband, Mario, have pre-existing medical conditions that have kept them in their home for the last two months to avoid the threat of a coronavirus infection. But the pair has something special planned for their family this afternoon that will take their minds off the lockdown. Ana, Mario and their two children are waiting by the window for Theresa Rooney to arrive.

Rooney usually takes wedding pictures or outdoor family portraits. The coronavirus lockdown, however, means her business has taken a hit as religious services and large gatherings have been canceled.

Rooney on a ladder take pictures outside a house (DW/L. Hänel)

The height of Rooney's ladder is her only limitation when it comes to the new family portraits

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So 34-year-old Rooney began photographing families and couples posing by their windows, on balconies or terraces — for free. She advertises her services in online neighborhood chatrooms and on Facebook.

She told DW when going about her job, she always keeps "a safe distance, of course." Rooney said her work now is only limited by the height of her ladder, which can only let her look into the windows of the first floor of people's homes.

She explains that her pictures serve families as reminders "that document what time under quarantine was like."

Instructions over the phone

At Ana and Mario's, Rooney calls the family from outside. The whole family gathers in front of the first-floor window, and Rooney climbs up her ladder. She tells the family members where to stand and how to pose: Mario is told to lift his daughter so she's easier to see. Then, Rooney asks them to move even closer to the window. Satisfied, she exclaims: "Perfect, just like that!"

This is the 15th family Rooney has photographed in the last few days. Each one of them, she said, is unique. She fondly remembers one couple who were celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary, "They were so happy that I was there to share the special day with them."

Two girls on the other side of a window (Theresa Rooney)

Rooney said her photos offer families documentation of their time in the coronavirus lockdown

Before heading out to photograph families and couples, Rooney always asks them what life under quarantine is like for them, and what they're looking forward to once life returns to normal. She said most miss hugging friends, but that many also say the unusual circumstances have brought families closer together.

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Yearning for human interaction

For Ana and Mario, who said they love seeing their youngest child, a boy of just several months, grow up. It means they never miss "a key moment in the boy's life," Ana told DW.

But she added that she does miss meeting people, "I'm a very open-minded and chatty person, and before the coronavirus lockdown I was always talking to my neighbors."

Ana and Rooney both clearly enjoy chatting during the photo shoot. Rooney manages to get Ana's 3-year-old daughter to relax a little. And eventually, the little girl presses her nose up against the window, grinning at the camera. 

A family of four waves through a window for a photograph (Theresa Rooney)

The photographs are family portraits made with the safety of social distancing

Then the family briefly heads back inside to change outfits. They return wearing Carnival costumes, with Ana and the baby boy dressed up as dragons, Mario clad in a full-body suit complete with mask, and their daughter in a witch's outfit. 

The family loves Carnival, Ana said, adding that they had celebrated Carnival just one week before the self-isolation began.

After taking her last picture of Ana and Mario's family, Rooney waves goodbye and climbs down her ladder, promising to email the photos soon.

"That was so much fun," Ana said, adding that it has helped her take her mind off the lockdown.

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