‘Homebody’ photos and paintings document the resilience of a Cleveland community
Bridget Caswell is a professional photographer who considers herself a storyteller.
"I really tell stories with my photos," she said.
Caswell works at the NASA Glenn Research Center, and her photos have appeared in national and international publications, but she’s firmly rooted in her community: Collinwood, a diverse, eclectic neighborhood on Cleveland’s northeast side.
Bridget Caswell snaps a picture in Collinwood. [Mary Fecteau / Ideastream Public Media]
"We have judges and artists and musicians, and police, firemen,” said Caswell. “We pride ourselves on our sense of community.”
Caswell has been an active presence in the neighborhood for 15 years, but during the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic she saw things change in Collinwood, as they did in neighborhoods across the world.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was trying to figure out how to adapt and live and survive,” she said. “All of a sudden, we all had to withdraw into our houses and you don't feel as connected to people.”
In the spring of 2020, Caswell rode her bike passed a neighbor who was outside playing an accordion.
“And as I drove and I got closer to the music, I just had this moment where it clicked,” Caswell said. “I realized that I needed to be telling the story of how this pandemic was affecting our neighborhood.”
And so Caswell 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’d post them on her Instagram.
“I think the general mood was hope,” she said. “No one knew what was going to happen. So I think the feeling was hope that this was going to get better sooner rather than later.”
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,” said Caswell. “And, whenever I take a portrait of somebody, I connect with them, so I was invested in their lives and I wanted to see how that year had impacted their lives.”
“Elise,” 2020 (left) and 2021 (right) from “Homebody: A Portrait of Our Community.” [Bidget Caswell]
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: A Portrait of Our Community."
“We're a community of different experiences. So we had joys, we had celebrations, we had tragic loss,” said Caswell.
On left: “Stephen & Jennifer," 2020. “This was the last photograph taken of Stephen and his wife, Jennifer, together. He passed away shortly after that,” said Caswell. On right: “Jennifer," 2021 from “Homebody: A Portrait of Our Community.” [Bridget Caswell]
“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 his subjects are architecture and landscapes.
“I think Bridget is certainly capturing the people of this neighborhood where I'm focused more on the places,” Callaghan said.
“Lake Shore Divide” by Tim Callaghan. [Tim Callaghan]
Callaghan’s paintings include a vacant apartment building on Lakeshore Boulevard, sections of Lake Erie and the Euclid Beach Arch, locations that are all within a mile of his home.
“This is certainly not the first time that I've used my neighborhood as a subject for my art, but this time felt a little different,” said Callaghan.”The circumstances of the pandemic, I think, made a lot of artists look even closer into their immediate environment in probably a more intense way than they have in the past.”
With this new intensity, both Callaghan and Caswell hope to document, not just the people and places of their community, but also their resilience in a year of devastating loss.
On left: “Adrienne & Tom," 2020. “That’s Adrienne and her brother Tom in the first shot. He had Down's Syndrome, a really amazing, kind man,” said Caswell. On right: “Adrienne," 2021. “Tom passed away just a few weeks before we did the follow-up portrait,” said Caswell. “His sister had taken care of him her whole life.” [Bridget Caswell]
“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,” said Caswell. “I really want people to see that we banded together.”