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Stoop Stories Marj Kleinman
Photograph: Courtesy Marj Kleinman, @stoop.stories

Brooklyn families share how they're currently coping in this new photo series

By
Shaye Weaver
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The stoop is where New Yorkers live, play, eat (and drink)—and now it's the backdrop of a new documentary and family portrait series called "Stoop Stories."

The project, by digital storyteller and children’s educational media producer Marj Kleinman, gathers Brooklyn residents on their respective stoops for a "family" photo. Each photo is paired with a snippet from an interview Kleinman did about how they're coping.

Each one is like a digital time capsule captured on what is essentially an outdoor extension of a living room or foyer. It's where families, at least those who have stoops, can be in the context of their homes and still be outside—a gateway to the outside world during the citywide shutdown. 

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Those that don't have a stoop are still welcome to take part in the project, too. A stoop doesn't have to mean a brownstone staircase, it could be the space by a front door or even someone else's stoop. 

Kleinman posts her portraits on Instagram at @stoop.stories, where you'll find about 20 Brooklynites' stories, from pregnant women concerned about the future to friends social distancing with one another, and from large families keeping each other sane to individuals going through isolation on their own.

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Jessica, a single mom with MS and her toddler, Mila, create their own stoop with 2 chairs in front of their #CarrollGardens apartment building. . How are you coping with COVID? “We are privileged that this is the first time that this is happening to us as a society or our family. When lockdowns and no access to food, goods, etc. is the norm for too many people, having to stay home and hang with your kid isn't bad. It's actually wonderful and a great way to reconnect after living such busy lives only a few days before. Is it exhausting? Yes, but she is lovable and sweet and silly.” . **link in bio to schedule a stoop shoot! . . . . . . . . #thefrontstepsproject #stoop_stories #stooplife #stoops #stoopsofbklyn #stoopsofbrooklyn #stoopsofNY #mystoop #stoopsandsidewalks #brownstonebrooklyn #brooklynbrownstone #brownstone #brownstoner #bkliving #spreadloveitsthebrooklynway #essentialworkers #stoopshoot #stoopdreams #BoerumHill, #CobbleHill, #carrollgardensmoms, #carrollgardensparents #BrooklynHeights #downtownbrooklyn #parkslopeparents **Please follow @stoop.stories

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Kleinman traverses Brooklyn to capture her neighbors (she walks because doesn't have a car) but she has a personal connection to stoop life, having lived in Boerum Hill her entire life.

"When the lockdown started, my stoop became my refuge and provided a perfect six foot distance from top to bottom," she tells us. "A friend or neighbor could pop by and hang on the bottom step with me at the top. I live in the same brownstone my parents bought in 1969. I really dig stoop life."

She hopes that Stoop Stories is "a vehicle for raising all Brooklynite’s voices," she says.

When taking their photographs, she lets the families decide on how they want to pose, but she aims for truth.

"I try to let them be authentically them," she says. "I let them fall in to positions they feel comfortable in and invite the kids to play with it a bit."

And with nearly 40 sessions under her belt, she's realized a few things.

"Everyone is struggling, yet everyone, even essential workers facing the most extreme challenges, is finding light and joy," she says. "I have always been fascinated with resilience. The central questions I ask is 'How are you coping with COVID?' and I love that some respond with 'OK' or 'I’m not!' while others share their specific coping mechanisms." 

She said that while it may not be the case for every child, kids in general seem to be doing OK.

"I keep wanting to say 'the kids are alright,'" she admits. "Kids really are quite resilient. They’re seemingly coping well. And we can only hope that lasts."

 

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Jennifer & Sam, an essential worker, with their three girls, Sydney, Madelyn, Emily, a COVID survivor, in #ParkSlope How are you coping with COVID? “I work at home, but my husband is an essential worker—an electrician, working on a city transit project. It’s nice to work from home, having never done that before, but it’s sad that this opportunity came about due to such hardship and sadness. I have to do it under these circumstances, like everyone else so we make the best of it. We have good days of coziness, home cooking, games, crafts, hobbies, and nostalgia by gazing at old pictures, but we also have bad days of paranoia anxiety, and fear, like everyone else.” . . . . . . . To schedule a social distance #stoopshoot >> link in bio. Please follow @stoop.stories . . . . . . . . #essentialworker #stoopstories #frontstepsproject #thefrontstepsproject #frontporchproject #stoop_stories #stooplife #stoops #stoopsofbklyn #stoopsofbrooklyn #stoopsofNY #mystoop #stoopsandsidewalks #brownstonebrooklyn #brooklynbrownstone #brownstone #brownstoner #bkliving #spreadloveitsthebrooklynway #covid19 #BoerumHillphotographer #ParkSlopefamilies #southslope #EmersonEverywhere #tiktokdance #tiktocking

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Kleinman's project is part of a documentary she started about 10 years ago, where she filmed neighbors talking about "the old days." She was inspired to revive the project when she noticed a few photographers on Instagram participating in The Front Steps Project. It has since grown into a movement and they’ve raised more than $1 million dollars in relief funds. 

"Even though Stoop Stories has a different model and focuses more on documentary storytelling, I’m proud to be part of this community and I’ve also met two other Brooklyn 'front steps' photographers and we are supporting each other through this time and looking for ways to collaborate," she says.

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Lisa and Hunter, friends and housemates, in #BrooklynHeights . A special extended Stoop Story from Lisa: ”My 89yr old Father is in a nursing home and contracted COVID-19. He has technically recovered, but was ravished by this illness and is still battling for his life. The stress of this gets unbearable. We have both had close friends who have survived COVID-19. It was very scary to know that they were sick and suffering without being able to help them.” . How are you coping with COVID? "WE'RE NOT!!!!….But seriously…Exercise is proving to be a good way to stay sane. We spend a lot of time talking and supporting each other. There are plenty of hugs and tears, but also a lot of playing music, dancing, cooking, and watching movies. We feel lucky to be living together versus being in total isolation.” . What else would you like to share about you or your family?: “Never would have thought that when Hunter moved in December, from LA, that we would be sheltering in place together as a ‘Family unit’ for months on end… We’ve been good friends for years, but we’re really a family now.” . The final word from Hunter: “Lisa is my rock. We've known each other for over 16 years. She is the most generous, strong, loving, and intelligent person I know. Beyond grateful to have her in my life at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world. We will get through this together. We will be smiling and dancing on the other side of this pandemic. Dancing on Ms. Rona's grave. XOXO.” . . . . . . To schedule a social distance #stoopshoot >> link in bio. Please follow @stoop.stories . . . . . . . #stoopstories #frontstepsproject #thefrontstepsproject #frontporchproject #stooplife #stoops #stoopsofbklyn #stoopsofbrooklyn #stoopsofNY #mystoop #stoopsandsidewalks #brownstonebrooklyn #brooklynbrownstone #brownstone #brownstoner #bkliving #spreadloveitsthebrooklynway #BoerumHillphotographer #BrooklynHeightsFamilies #BrooklynHeightsParents #BoCoCafamilies #BoCoCaparents #BoCoCamoms #BrooklynforLife #brooklynstrong @thefrontstepsproject #thefrontstepsprojectbrooklyn

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You can book here for $100 to $150, though no family will be turned away if they can't afford it, Kleinman says. Portraits are also free for essential workers and volunteers.

On her website she states in further detail: "For families who can afford it, there is a suggested sliding scale: $100-150 for 5-10 hi-res shots (20% goes to COVID relief efforts). No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Essential workers and volunteers: I’d love to share your story and gift you a set of portraits at no charge."

At the very least, her photo sessions offer a glimmer of light and break up a bit of the monotony of staying home. 

"For some, it's a reason to get dressed," she says. "Some people come out as they are. Some people have fun with it and get dressed up. I’m happy to bring some joy to families when I visit them for their stoop shoots."

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Marcy and Samuel, with their ultra playful children, Aria and Dylan in #carrollgardens How are you coping with COVID? "We are happy to be hunkering down in Brooklyn! We are both working full time and attempting to homeschool and entertain the kids. It’s been challenging to say the least. The kids have periods of intense creative play, building with LEGO or playing imaginative games. It’s nice when they get into that zone and play for long stretches, it’s one of their coping mechanisms.” . . . . . . . To schedule a social distance #stoopshoot >> link in bio. Please follow @stoop.stories . . . . . . . #stoopstories #frontstepsproject #thefrontstepsproject #frontporchproject #stooplife #stoops #stoopsofbklyn #stoopsofbrooklyn #stoopsofNY #mystoop #stoopsandsidewalks #brownstonebrooklyn #brooklynbrownstone #brownstone #brownstoner #bkliving #spreadloveitsthebrooklynway #BoerumHillphotographer #BoerumHillfamilies #BoerumHillParents #carrollgardensfamilies #carrollgardensparents #BoCoCafamilies #BoCoCaparents #BoCoCamoms #BrooklynforLife #play @thefrontstepsproject #thefrontstepsprojectbrooklyn

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"If this can give families a memory of the positive side of the experience, it might help them cope with lasting trauma" she says.

Kleinman hopes to see the project grow, too. She will soon ask for people to submit their stories and photographs and is beginning to expand her stories to other parts of New York City.

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