During last year’s holiday season I learned first hand that the old adage, “Tis Better to Give than to Receive” is so incredibly true.
I had the amazing opportunity to be a presenter at Kevin Kubota’s Photographers Ignite in New York City back in 2012. During that presentation I got to meet celebrity photographer, and fellow Photographers Ignite presenter, Jeremy Cowart. During his presentation he showed examples of his Help Portrait sessions. He encouraged us to do powerful things with our photography talents and make real impacts on peoples’ lives. His presentation really resonated with me. For years I had wanted to do my own Help Portrait session. 2019 was the year I finally got to do one. December 3rd and 4th I donated my time and took head shots for 35 of Project Place’s clients.
The mission of Project Place is to promote a community of hope and opportunity for homeless and low-income individuals by providing the skills, education and resources needed to obtain and sustain employment and housing. Most of the people I photographed that day had never had a professional photograph done before. Many had spent years living on the streets of Boston. Some said the last photo they had taken was a mug shot. Getting to come in and be pampered, have their makeup done, be told that they are beautiful and get to see it right then and there with their own eyes on the tethered monitor was a total treat.
The goal of the session was to celebrate how far they had come and to be able to see it in a concrete fashion in a photo.
During their sessions many of the clients shared their incredible journey with me. So often we think when we see a homeless person, that could never happen to me, but believe me when I say Project Place’s clients have come from all walks of life. Talking with each of them made me realize just how much I have and made me so grateful for every little thing that comes so easily for me but is so difficult for them. A safe place to sleep, a consistent source of food, warm boots to wear in the winter, being able to go to a doctor when I need it, everything else is just icing on the cake.
As the shoot went on I received so many hugs and expressions of deep deep thanks.
One gentleman I photographed that day had been been addicted to heroin and cocaine for 13 years. His wife found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor with a needle in his arm, completely unawares of the fact that had been addicted to drugs for years. He is now over 6 months clean and sober. When he saw his photo he was taken aback. He said if he had shown that photo to himself 6 months before he never would have believed he could smile and look that happy sober. He said he would draw upon that photo and memory of the shoot that day any time he felt the pull of going back to drugs to help keep him sober. To know that me coming out that day may have a role in keeping him on track was beyond heart warming.
What I kept hearing over and over again was, “No, that’s not me, I can’t possibly look that good!” My response was “Yes, it really is YOU! Take a good long look at it. All the hard work you have put into yourself here at Project Place has made the difference…that and really good lighting.” After seeing themselves literally in a different light each client walked out of their session, head held a little bit higher and feeling a little more confident than they were when they first came in that day.
One client started to cry when she saw her image, saying she wished her husband was still alive to see this image and how proud he would be of her. The experience touched my heart in so many ways.
I was determined during those shoots that we were going to get a great shot of each client no matter what. So much of what makes an image great is the expression. To get this from my subjects I speak to them during the makeup preparation and during the whole session while we shoot. It was a wonderful way to get to know each of the clients while having the secondary benefit of putting them at ease and allowing me to get photos with real expressions. At the end of the second day, I thought I had possibly hit a barrier. The last client of the day was from the Republic of Congo. French is her native language. Conversing back and forth and directing her was going to be very difficult. Pantomime was only going to get me so far. When she was getting close to what I wanted, all I could say was “très bon.”
Finally it hit me. GOOGLE TRANSLATE! Technology to the rescue. We were able to speak back and forth and the looks of confusion melted away into smiles. After reviewing her images together we concluded that what she really needed was a pop of color, then I realized the shirt I had on was emerald green. Luckily I had a tank top on underneath. Off it came. I literally gave her the shirt off my back. We tied it around her shoulders like a scarf and it was perfect. She was so happy. In her wonderfully thick french accent she said over and over to me, “I love you! I love you! Thank you! Merci beaucoup!” It was the perfect end to the incredibly rewarding shoot. The warm and fuzzy feeling I got from doing the shoot still is with me months later.
Luckily I have great photos to commemorate the event because local Boston photographer, Keiko Hiromi kindly came out and photographed the shoot. She was so wonderful with the clients and even submitted the photos to the Boston Sun, a paper she often shoots for. Seth Daniel ended up not only featuring some of the photos but did a full page piece about the shoot! I was so thankful that through the shoot Project Place got more visibility for the incredible services they provide.
This January I delivered the beautiful prints from Miller’s Lab to Project Place. They will distribute the images to the clients. But I did get to give one personally to Ivan, an incredible member of Clean Corners I have had the pleasure of photographing while at work several times now. He’s the one who took the photo of me on ground when I was shooting Clean Corners at Fenway. I was so thankful that I got to see his reaction in person.
The whole experience was so wonderful for the clients that Project Place has agreed to let me do “The Faces of Project Place” each year. Unfortunately COVID got in the way of me doing this again in 2020. But I look forward to 2021 and hope that we can make this amazing event happen again soon.
I hope that this post will inspire you to do your very own Help Portrait session for an organization that is near and dear to your heart, or for one that you will get to know better through offering to do a session. It is a donation of your time and talent, but trust me, what you get back is SO MUCH MORE! If you have any questions about how to do your own Help Portrait session feel free to visit their website for more information or contact me through the contact form on this website.