Getting by with a little help from my friends

I’ve always thought the contributions that photojournalists make to their communities is intangible. It’s in the nature of the business of a daily news photographer to shoot pictures and then move on to the next story. We inform, sometimes entertain, and, we hope, move our readers to act. But rarely is there an opportunity to measure the difference we may make in the lives of people we photograph.


Photographer Randy Allen takes a picture during the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/2.8 ISO: 400). Photo by Craig Sanders.

Nashville-based photographer Jeremy Cowart is seeking to change that. Several months ago he started a campaign to give back to the less fortunate with a program called Help-Portrait. The idea was to photograph people who never dreamed of having a portrait done of themselves and/or their families. To give them something to cherish and and boost their self-esteem.


Kendra Brooks and her two boys Jesse, 3, and Aden, 1, are photographed by Charr Crail during a Help-Portrait session at the Stockton Family Shelter (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/5.6 ISO: 800). Photo by Craig Sanders.

Inspired by Cowert’s call to service, I organized an effort to give portraits to the residents of the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. I admit that I let time slip by and started my effort a little too late and missed the event date of Dec. 12, but although we’d be late to the party, I was determined that the portraits be shot before Christmas.


Kendra Brooks and two boys Jesse, 3, and Aden, hold their finished portrait at the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Nikon D80. Lens: Nikkor 18-55mm @ 38mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/4.5 ISO: 400). Photo by Karen Kline.

In little over a week after first contacting the Shelter we had a date set to do the shoot. I talked with shelter volunteer coordinator Katie Visser. She told me that there could be up to 34 families and 14 single women at the shelter. I knew then that I would need some help. I put out a call for aid to my friends on Facebook. Despite being a last minute thing, some very talented and dedicated people volunteered their time, equipment and expertise. Their skill level ranged from seasoned veterans to beginners to people with big hearts but no photographic experience at all.


Christopher Ball, 35, Amber Melendez and their son Isaiah Ball, 6 mos, pose for a photo during the Help Portrait session (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 19mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400). Photo by Craig Sanders.

Freelance photographers have to hustle everyday to make a living. There’s no paid vacation, no sick leave for them. If they don’t work, they don’t get paid. Three volunteered to help without hesitation.


Charr Crail shares a laugh with with Frank King, 63, while editing his photos (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/3.2. ISO: 640). Photo by Craig Sanders.


Ryan Parker at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. Photo by Charr Crail


Randy Allen shows Elizhae Jones, 10, her photo during the Help Portrait session at the Stockton Family Shelter (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/3.2. ISO: 640). Photo by Craig Sanders.


Kimberly Jones, 2nd from left, with her family, Aaliyah Lyon,14, left, Elizhae Lyon, 10, Danieka Johnson, 15, and Tayzhawn Jones, 9, at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. Photo by Randy Allen.

Charr Crail, Randy Allen and I all took photo classes together at Sacramento City College. Charr and Randy are two of the best photographers I know. They have worked in newspapers and are now both freelance photographers. It was fun and amazing to watch them work. More than just their photographic artistry is their ability to make an instant connection with their subjects. Not only did they take great pictures, but they made it a wonderful and special experience for the people they shot.


Photographer Jennifer Marie Matthews-Howell takes a picture during the Help-Portrait session (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/50th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100). Photo by Clifford Oto.


John “Cowboy” Amisted at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 120mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 100). Photo by Jennifer Marie Matthews-Howell.

Jennifer Marie-Howell started out as an photo intern at the Record. I’ve followed her career and watched her skills grow. It has become a point of pride for me to see her work her way up to become photo editor at the Lodi News-Sentinel.  A few years ago she stepped down to a part-time position at the paper to pursue a freelance career and raise a family, but her talent has grown even more. Her portraits of children are among the best seen anywhere. Although she’s normally a natural light/location shooter she did a bang-up job with a studio light set-up and made some remarkable images. Her heart and soul as well as those of her subjects shows through with every shot.


Karen Kline from Alameda, left with help from Tim Ulmer, photographs Christopher Ball, Amber Melendez, and their son Isaiah Ball, 6 mos. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 22mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 400). Photo by Craig Sanders.


Lawrence Hughes at the Family Shelter (Camera: Nikon D80. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 22mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 400). Photo by Karen Kline.


Ariel Rosso takes a picture during the Stockton Help-Portrait event (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/3.2. ISO: 200). Photo by Clifford Oto.


Starla and George Golhl at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Nikon D90. Lens: Nikkor 80mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/14. ISO: 200). Photo by Ariel Rosso.

Like Charr and Randy, Karen Kline attended photo classes at Sac City with me, but she took a different career path, entering the health care field as a physician’s assistant. She brought along her niece, Ariel Rosso, a Graphic Design major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. When I put out a call for help, Karen was the very first one to respond. We set up lights and a backdrop for them and they produced some beautiful, touching portraits. The 25 years since college hadn’t diminished Karen’s ability to create a great picture a bit. Ariel’s results show that if she wanted to follow a career in photography, she has the talent for it.

There were others that, although they didn’t shoot any portraits, proved to invaluable to the success of the project.


Nancy Rosso helps children decorate cupcakes at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mmmm @ 26mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400). Photo by Clifford Oto.

Karen’s sister, Nancy Rosso, Ariel’s mom, brought a generous donation of cupcakes from Kat’s Kakes in Stockton. She kept the kids busy with decorating the cupcakes and kept them from being bored while they waited to have their pictures taken. It was a great service for us working in a tight space with a tangle of electrical cords and studio lights not to worry about having something accidentally knocked over.


Clifford Oto edits pictures on a laptop computer while his daughter Claire Oto, 14, organizes pictures into presentation folders at the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. Photo by Craig Sanders

My 14-year-old daughter, Claire, was really enthusiastic about the project (and not just because she got to get out of school for it). Never really having seen me work before, she looked forward to helping me and the other photographers. She acted as a go-fer and helped out wherever help was needed. She also took behind-the-scenes pictures to chronicle the day. Thank you, Claire, for making me one proud papa.


Volunteer Marji Brown Dunn watches as photographer Randy Allen takes a picture at the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 18mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200). Photo by Clifford Oto.

Marji Brown Dunn is an old friend from my hometown in Walnut Grove and Delta High School and now lives in Stockton. After not having seen each other for more than 30 years, we recently reconnected at the Stockton Showcase UOP basketball game a few weeks ago. Although not a shooter, she responded to my request for help. She did everything from carrying equipment to posing as a test model. She also bought us sandwiches and doughnuts, which was a life saver, because we didn’t have time for a lunch break, eating on our feet.


Record photo editor Craig Sanders, right,helps Karen Kline with her camera settings at the Help-Portrait event in Stockton (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 52mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200). Photo by Clifford Oto.

At work, my boss, Craig Sanders, makes my job easy. He makes sure I have everything I need from the right equipment to the proper information for me to do my job. That’s what he did at the shelter. I had originally asked Craig to shoot, and he changed his work schedule to help out in the morning. But he was so busy setting up lights, downloading pictures and trouble-shooting that he didn’t get a chance to. He even helped me with a malfunctioning set of lights. He selflessly helped others and made it easy for them to do their jobs.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200). Photo by Claire Oto.

Tim Ulmer, owner of Ulmer Photo on Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton, is amazing. We have crossed paths many times over the years, and I’ve seen him volunteering to shoot for many charitable events. I figured that he’d be great to get as another photographer. He told me that he was “shot out” having done an event recently, but without hesitation he offered to make free 8×10 prints for all of our subjects. He shuttled all of our digital files to his shop a few miles away. He returned with not only the large prints, but multiple 4 x 5s as well. He also provided folders for the prints to put in to make the presentation a little nicer for our clients when they received their pictures. All this during a busy time of year for his shop. Indeed, even though he had a print order for 1,600 pictures, he was still able to deliver most of the pictures to the shelter that day. By his count, Tim volunteers his time and skill to 14 different charitable events (currently at his store, he’s collecting diapers and donations for the Pregnancy Help Center), but without so much as a hiccup, he offered to help me. I’m convinced that if I asked for the shirt off of his back, he’d gladly give it.


Dannielle Afoa, left, and her aunt Jennifer Pascua, 22, curl 7-year-old Felicity Barciano’s hair before her portrait session at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200). Photo by Clifford Oto.

It just wasn’t my friends helping out. Visser, a former cosmetology student, enlisted Dannielle Afoa and Jennifer Pascua, both beach-ball pregnant, to do the hair and makeup of the subjects. They made the women of the shelter feel pampered and special.


Aden Brooks, 1, makes faces at the camera during the Help Portrait session at the Stockton Family Shelter (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 800). Photo by Craig Sanders.

Around the shelter’s multipurpose room where we were set up, there were smiles and laughter throughout the day. Photographers and subjects making a connection and having fun.


Volunteers, Jennifer Marie Matthews-Howeel, left, Nancy Rosso, Ariel Rosso, Karen Kline, Charr Crail, Clifford Oto, Marji Brown Dunn, Craig Sanders, Tim Ulmer and Randy Allen stand for a group portrait before the Help-Portrait session at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless.

I am humbled by the generosity of the all who volunteered, and whatever words I can come up with to thank them seem inadequate. Near the end of the day shelter resident Stephanie Holman came up to me. She and her family of three children ages 12, 16 and 18, were among the last ones of the day to have their picture taken. She didn’t want to take them out of school and we waited for them.  She gave me a small hand-written note in a beautiful cursive that one rarely sees anymore. Her words express thanks far better than I ever could.


Stephanie Holman, seated, with her children Tiphany, 16, Emory, 12 and William, 18 at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200). Photo by Jennifer Marie Matthews-Howell.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your service given to our family! May God continue to bless and keep you and your establishment. Out of all the things I wanted for a Christmas gift was to take pictures with my family. Thank you sooo much.
Sincerely,
S. Holman and family”

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