On Sunday, March 29th, Avalon resident Joe Riebling zig-zagged his way across the North Boroughs with his wife/assistant, Sue, and his trusty camera. Inspired by what has become a national trend during this time of quarantines and stay at home orders, Joe wanted to participate in what has become known as the Porch Portrait Project. A quick google search reveals that photographers across the country are taking portraits of families, from a safe distance, of course, together at their homes during this chapter in our collective history.
While the trend may be new, Joe has been photographing people for four decades. During that time, he has photographed 1,000 weddings. Since he opened Joey Studios in his home in 1993, he has also photographed countless senior high school students, children, families, and pets. He says, “A wonderful thing about being a people photographer is that you get to participate in some wonderful events and capture the emotions of that
event. Often times, I am there on some of the most important times of a person’s life.”
Riebling grew up in rural Beaver County and attended The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Filmmakers after his 1978 high school graduation. He worked in a professional photo lab for twenty years, shooting weddings on the weekends. Having lived in the North Boroughs since the late 70s, he and Sue are fully invested in this community. They consider the North Boroughs “fantastic” (I agree) and love this walking community and its diverse group of residents. They choose to support local businesses as often as possible, are members of the YMCA, and do a lot of volunteer work in and around the area. Sue currently serves as the President of the Board of the Avalon Library.
Joe is well known throughout the North Boroughs for his portraiture and active in many online groups. When he first learned about the Porch Portrait Project, he quickly took to his keyboard and put forth an offer to the community: he would photograph a handful of families on one day: brief sessions from a safe distance, to capture each household’s state during this time of quarantine, at no charge. He asked that interested people comment on his FaceBook post and the response was “overwhelming.” The project turned out to be a huge success. Joe and Sue visited about a dozen families that Sunday and everyone had a great time.
Joe is thrilled with the feedback he has received from this project. Pittsburgh Today Live even featured Joe and Sue’s tour of the North Boroughs in their April 1st broadcast. Through all of this, Joe’s goal was to “give people a nice break from the current madness, come outside, take some fun family photos.” I’d say he achieved that! Laughs and smiles were shared, connections between neighbors revitalized. Everyone stayed safely distant from one another and a wonderful day was had. Joe and Sue were happy to meet and photograph so many neighbors and consider the experience as exhausting as it was rewarding.
At this time, Riebling does not have plans to take additional porch portraits. Though he’d love to capture more families during this time, he also wants to respect the stay at home order set in place by Governor Wolf. My advice? If you’re out for a socially distant walk in your neighborhood and see your neighbor on their porch, ask if they’d like you to snap a photo of their family with your phone. It may not be professional quality like Joe would take, but it will mark this moment in our collective history.