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Porch Portraits: Pandemic isolation opens artistic door for Jerome’s Michael Thompson


Jerome photographer Michael Thompson, manned with his porch portraits camera and lens, poses with his wife, Jennifer McDonald and son Simon Thompson on their porch in Jerome on Wednesday. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

Jerome photographer Michael Thompson, manned with his porch portraits camera and lens, poses with his wife, Jennifer McDonald and son Simon Thompson on their porch in Jerome on Wednesday. VVN/Vyto Starinskas


Originally Published: April 21, 2020 11:55 a.m.

Jerome photographer Michael Thompson has turned the pandemic into an art project. And the photos are telling a story that will be remembered for generations to come.

He is calling them appropriately “Porch Portraits” and they paint a picture of life in Jerome during  the coronavirus crisis.

“I felt compelled to do it,” explained Thompson. “Who in Jerome doesn’t have a porch?”

“It’s kind of something to uplift some spirits,” he said. “Maybe it might be important to document the times for the historical society or something.”

So with social distancing a new reality, the experienced, semi-retired Jerome photographer decided to photograph people on their porches at a safe distance manned with a 300-mm zoom lens.

He is shooting them digitally, but removing most of the color so the photos are light brown or sepia colored, resembling old-time Western photos.

The faces are crisp and he leaves nothing to the imagination, bringing out the beauty and years of living in each subject using natural light, tight cropping and sharp-as-a-nail depth of field. The subjects are staring back at the camera and not everyone is smiling.

The photos look as though they could have been taken yesterday, or in the 1990s or in the 1970s. The clothes are no giveaway and removing the color seems to make the photos timeless.

The first portrait that Thompson took  for the project is his most dramatic  and shows a couple holding hands in front of another portrait of the American Gothic.  The light is bouncing upward off the floor of the porch, exaggerating their expressions.

“I thought that was really profound because they’re very stoic-looking and they’re holding each other’s hands,” he said.

There are many couples in Thompson’s photos, some individuals and some groups of three.

He photographed the Jerome Post Office Master looking through the Post Office window because “that is her porch.” Then Thompson got one of his most striking photos of a customer and her tattoos at the same window picking up her mail.

He’s also got a photo of the mayor in sunglasses on her porch and even Councilman Jack Dillenberg dramatically pointing to something on his porch.

Thompson said people are happy to see him when he shows up since they are isolated. They enjoy visiting with him. He said most people in Jerome are hunkering down and doing art, writing new music, working on a book, poetry or whatever.

He has photographed about 17 people right now and has a list of about 20 to 30 more who want porch portraits, he said.

“My dance card is filling up.”

Thompson is hunkered down with his wife, Jennifer McDonald, and son, Simon Thompson, in their Jerome house, where many of his neighbors are his porch subjects.

To participate in the project, Jerome residents should email Thompson at mthompsonphoto@yahoo.com

His photo project is being updated on a link on the “I love Jerome, Arizona!!!” Facebook page with posts by Sage Harvey.