In the era of the “selfie,” where anybody and everybody shares photos of themselves on every social media platform imaginable, having a picture taken may seem insignificant. However, Help-Portrait sees it differently.
Help-Portrait recognized that there are people who do not have access to smart phones or the money needed to get photos taken at Sears, let alone at the studio of a professional photographer. So the company came up with an idea to make that happen. Help-Portrait’s mission is to find someone in need, take that person’s portrait, print it and deliver it. It’s a simple idea that yields profound results.
As a semi-professional photographer, I took part in two Help-Portrait events. At first, I was skeptical. I assumed that people in need would prefer to be given something other than a photograph. It did not take me long to realize that the result was significantly more than just a piece of photographic paper with an image on it.
Photography is unique in that it is an art that captures a precise moment in time — a split second we may not have seen with the naked eye. For example, the grimace of pain on Lee Harvey Oswald’s face at the moment he was shot by Jack Ruby. A triumphant Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston with his fist pumping across his chest. A young Austrian boy receiving a new pair of shoes during World War II. A sailor kissing a young nurse in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945. We remember these iconic images because of the particular moment each one captured.
Not every family has the means to capture special family moments, so Help-Portrait volunteers give them professional photos free of charge. | Photo: KPBS.org
Most of us have our own personal moments captured in photos: our kids opening Christmas presents; graduation; prom; weddings. We identify with these moments and we can tell whole stories from these photographs that capture less than a second in time.
Some people don’t have the means to capture such important moments. That’s where Help Portrait’s work begins. Celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart and marketing strategist Kyle Chowning conceived the idea in 2008. Their goal: “To empower photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists to use their skills, tools and expertise to give back to their local community.”
In 2010, five photographers and I headed to Trinity Rescue Mission in Jacksonville, Florida, which serves as a homeless shelter for men and a center to assist women and children who have been victims of domestic abuse, trafficking or recovering from addiction. Along with the photographers, we had two hair stylists, makeup artists and people to handle administrative functions.
From the start, there were some women who were thrilled to be able to take part in the event. There were others, however, who were hesitant and some who were even hostile to the idea. As time went by, we saw attitudes change. When women started stepping in front of the camera and could see on computers what they looked like, nearly all of the others decided to take part as well. While watching the process unfold, I began to see the Help-Portrait vision come into focus.
These women had not felt special in a long time, if ever. Many of them had never been told they were beautiful. It was their time to shine. Throughout the day, I heard the same statement over and over: “I’ve never had my picture taken before.” It was stunning to learn that something we take for granted can be something so new and significant for someone else.
We asked the local Walgreens to donate a single 8×10 print, and the store responded by providing each woman a package of various image sizes. When we delivered them to the women later that day, the joy on their faces made the entire effort worthwhile. Providing financial gifts to organizations helping those in need is important, but there is something different about using one’s God-given talents to contribute in a personal way. It’s an impact that will be felt for a long time.
From 2008 to 2015, Help-Portrait has distributed 370,825 portraits with the help of 73,250 volunteers at 2,803 events in 67 countries.
This December 5th is Help-Portrait day. For more information about volunteering, visit the Getting Started page on Help-Portrait’s website. There you will find all of the resources needed to either create your own event or to be involved in one. Check out the video below to see the impact these events can have.
Jay Caruso is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @JayCaruso.