Help-Portrait NWA 2010

Some days I don’t get much done. Some days I get a lot done. And some days I do something I don’t usually do, but for a good reason. This past Saturday was one of those days.

I spent Saturday morning and afternoon at a Help-Portrait location in Fayetteville. Help-Portrait is an international movement of photographers who donate their time, energy, money, and services to people who cannot afford to have their portraits made. From Berlin to Tokyo, Dallas to Bangalore, and even from Fayetteville to Rogers, photographers worldwide held events on Saturday to give the gift of portraits to the impoverished. It is a fascinatingly simple concept: 1) Find someone in need. 2) Take their portrait. 3) Print their portrait. 4) Deliver it to them. I cannot think of a better and more helpful way to spend an ordinary Saturday in December. Here’s an incredibly inspiring video describing the idea. Watch it. Really. You wouldn’t believe the difference this can make in people’s lives. One man I photographed on Saturday, who used to be a studio portrait photographer at Sears, said he hadn’t had his portrait made in over twenty years. He is now homeless. When we told him his prints would be ready in less than an hour, he couldn’t believe it; he was only hoping to get them before Christmas.

At our Fayetteville location at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, we had six photographers, three photo processors, hair and makeup people, and some other helpers. Collier’s Photo, across the street, donated the prints (THANKS!). This was a big improvement over last year’s system of printing them ourselves on inket printers on location — they looked great, and they’ll last longer.

We took photographs of families large and small, single mothers, boyfriends, grandparents, and children. Homeless. Mentally ill. Perfectly normal, but with no place to go. Many of the people who came were recruited at area churches, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. Many did not make it to their appointments, but many did. We had food donated from Panera that people could munch on in the morning, and had sandwiches/chips/other snacks at lunch time. Some people stayed all day — it was fairly brisk outside — and some took food away with them. Some just wanted someone to talk to.

But what that they all had in common was that they walked away with photo prints, digital images on a disk, full stomachs, and smiles on their faces. And they got it all for free. I don’t think I could think of a better way to lift spirits around the holidays. Unlike many a family portrait session where the photos seem to get dusty/misplaced/forgotten about, I think that these photos will be sent to family members, kept safe, and treasured for the first time in a long time. Or at least until next year. It was an incredibly inspiring event, and I think I received more than I gave. Much more. And you can do it too. You can spare one day a year to give back to a community who needs you. So, if you’re a photographer, find out where you can volunteer next year. You don’t have to be a pro. You don’t even have to know how to take pictures — who else would make those sandwiches or do the makeup?

Get involved. Donate. Or at least go here to hear some stories about how this event has affected people the world over.

For me, and for them, 12/3/2011 won’t come soon enough.

And a quote from one of my favorite musicians, Ben Harper:

…So, mister., when you’re rattling On heaven’s gate Let me tell you, mister, By then it is too late.

 

‘Cause, mister,when you get there, they don’t ask how much you saved. All they’ll want to know, mister, Is what you gave.

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