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Sketchbook: Photographer Bridget Caswell

In this edition of “Sketchbook,” we meet a photographer who documented the strength and resilience of her neighborhood during the first year of the pandemic.

Read the Script:

- [Bridget Caswell, Photographer]: Oh, man that’s good, Scooby.

My name is Bridget Caswell, and I am a professional photographer. I really tell stories with my photos. I tend to gravitate towards taking photographs of people. I'm a firm believer of telling a story where you're at.

- [Narrator] And where she's at is Collinwood. A diverse eclectic community, Northeast of downtown Cleveland.

- [Bridget Caswell, Photographer]: We have judges and artists and musicians and blue collar and police, firemen and really is across the board. I think we pride ourselves in our sense of community.

- [Narrator] She's been an active presence in the neighborhood for 15 years.

But during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bridget saw things change in Collinwood as they did in neighborhoods across the world.

- [Bridget Caswell, Photographer]: At the beginning of the pandemic everybody was trying, to figure out how to adapt and live and survive. All of a sudden, you know, we all had to withdraw into our houses and you don't feel as connected. When the pandemic started, I was riding my bike through my neighborhood with my daughter. And I heard one of my neighbors was playing her accordion.

And as I drove and I got closer to the music, really, I just had this moment where it clicked, where I realized that I needed to be telling the story of how this pandemic was affecting our neighborhood.

- [Narrator] And so Bridget began taking porch portraits of her neighbors. A trend that photographers embraced across the country during the pandemic. Families posed socially distant in front of their homes.

She posted them on her Instagram.

-[Bridget Caswell, Photographer]: There were hundreds of photographers going out and taking pictures outside. But to me, it was really more about trying to help my neighborhood stay connected and feel seen. People were stopping me randomly on the street, "Hey, can you come and take my next?"

You know, no one knew what was gonna happen. So I think the feeling was hope that this was gonna get better sooner than later, I guess. Yeah.

- [Narrator] But as the year progressed, hope gave way to uncertainty. As the pandemic proved to have staying power.

- This is such a unique period in our lifetime. And whenever I take a portrait of somebody, I connect with them. And so I was invested in their lives and I wanted to see on a personal level, but also as a storyteller, how that year had impacted their lives.

- [Narrator] And so she returned to her original subjects and created dual portraits separated by a year. They're compiled into a book she's called Homebody.

- [Bridget Caswell, Photographer]: And this is Zipper. Zipper was one of the people at the beginning of the pandemic that was making masks for everybody in the neighborhood. She was really, really great and thoughtful in making sure that people were protected. We're a community of different experiences, so we had joys, we had celebrations, we had tragic loss.

- [Narrator] Homebody is also a gallery show, right in the community where it was created at Collinwood's Photocentric. Bridget's photos are paired with painter, Tim Callaghan's pandemic work. His work also centers around the neighborhood, but with different subjects in mind.

- [Tim Callaghan, Painter] With the exception of few of them, a lot of my images are void of humans. You know, of people. I think Bridget is certainly capturing the people of this neighborhood while I'm focused more on the places.

- [Bridget Caswell, Photographer]: Tim and I both were really on the same kind of journey where we thought it was really important to document our community. Abigail and Phil, they had just gotten married, not too long before we did the first one. And then the second one, they had finished graduate school and we're starting to get on with their lives. And now they're having a baby. What I hope that people take away from the gallery show and the book is the resilience of our community and how special Collinwood is. And I really want people to see that we banded together.