When the pandemic began and California went into lockdown, Ute Reckhorn and her 15-year-old daughter Clara got to work. Instead of just ordering take-out or getting curb-side pick-up from local businesses, the pair decided to use their photography and writing skills to tell the stories of the people behind the shops.
Ute, who is a professional photographer, started taking portraits of families outside their home for the Front Steps Project to document life during the pandemic. But, she soon wanted to do more when she realized that so many businesses in the South Bay were struggling. So she started photographing local business owners, and her daughter Clara, who had recently found a passion for writing, started writing long-form captions on their Instagram page @facesofsouthbay to tell their stories.
“The goal is to raise awareness for them so people go there and spend money instead of at a big chain,” Clara said. “It really is interesting because I learn so much about different people and I learn about how different people are making a living.”
Clara added that meeting the small business owners has inspired her family to shop locally instead of shopping at bigger chain stores, and they’ve also inspired their neighbors and friends to do the same.
“So many people have such inspiring stories,” Ute said. “I think it’s something that really has value at this time. People are feeling sad or depressed because of the current situation, and we get to tell these stories about people who have overcome obstacles and are living their dreams.”
The pair meets up with the business owner and they talk with them for about 10 minutes before taking pictures. They like to get to know their story and understand what is important to them before diving in and taking the picture.
“We like to establish a connection,” said Ute. “For me as a photographer it’s easier to get a good picture when I know who is in front of me. I try to capture their aura. Sometimes I don’t even tell them I’m taking a picture and they’re surprised when I’m done.”
“I try to capture their essence in the writing as authentically as I can,” said Clara. “So people can feel like they’ve met them without being face-to-face with them.”
The mother-daughter team is currently doing this project Without payment and posting the images on their Instagram page. They hope it will help people see the faces behind the businesses and inspire people to shop locally and support places in the South Bay that are struggling because of the pandemic.
“People really like the idea of helping small businesses,” said Clara. “We really love this project and love being able to help during a difficult time and think the people of the South Bay understand that and see it as just as important as we do.”