Help-Portrait was founded in 2008 by photographer Jeremy Cowart. In just a few short years, the organization’s presence has ballooned; what started out as a small handful of participants now involves groups and individuals from all points on the map, including the United States, the UK, Brazil, and many other places. Their mission, as they describe it:
In December, photographers around the world will be grabbing their cameras, finding people in need and taking their picture. When the prints are ready, the photographs get delivered.
Yep. It really is that easy.
And by the way, we don’t want to see your photos. This is about GIVING the pictures, not taking them. These portraits are not for your portfolio, website, or for sale. Money isn’t involved here. This holiday season, you have the chance to give a family something they may have never had before—a portrait together.
As with any good mission statement, the above can be condensed to a handful of no-nonsense bullet points:
1. Find someone in need
2. Take their portrait
3. Print their portrait
4. Deliver their portrait
Predictably enough, some photographers have griped about all of this (usually they’re the same ones who spend more time on discussion forums bitching over their manufacturer of choice not updating their favorite camera yet, so they’re jumping ship to (insert name of other manufacturer), wondering whether the time, money, skills and photos could be put to better use. There’s a video at the end of this post that explains the organization and their mission pretty well, but in the meantime, let me say this: if someone’s living in poverty, or just barely making it, one of the last things they’re going to spend money on is having photos done. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not really a vital need. I’ll grant that. But the service provided here — and simultaneously, some part of its genius — is that it gives families and individuals the opportunity to get their portrait done professionally when they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance. Since family portraits are a big thing for some of us, it becomes easy to see why a simple click of the shutter can give someone not just a photo, but also a reminder that they count.
Notice that there’s nothing here that states you have to be a professional, though plenty of professional photographers do donate their time and services. You don’t even have to be a photographer to get involved. Each site typically requires not only photographers, but also people to help with lighting, makeup, general tasks and errands, and people whose job is primarily to look after the needs of those photographed during the shoot. In short: not a pro? No problem. Not even a photographer? They’ll likely find a spot for you, as well.
You can find Help-Portrait in a few places on the web. You can, for instance, follow them on Facebook (your local chapter may also have a presence there), or on Twitter. The real goldmine of information and resources, however, is the organization’s main site, http://help-portrait.com/ From there, you can find information on the 2011 event (which takes place less than a month from now), read their Mission Statement, a robust Community section, a blog, and — perhaps most importantly, information on getting started.
Postscript: Here’s a video posted by Help-Portrait that explains, in their own words, what they’re doing: