What is a picture worth?

If you’re homeless what is the value of a picture to you? A photograph doesn’t put food in one’s belly, clothes on one’s back or a roof overhead. If your family photos were lost in a disaster like a flood or a fire, what kind of price would pay to get those pictures back? At the Stockton edition of Help-Portrait on Monday, both photographers and their subjects discovered how much a picture can be worth.

Created last year by Nashville-based photographer Jeremy Cowert, Help-Portrait is a worldwide movement that provides photographic services to people in need. Photographers gave free portraits for thousands of clients across the globe. For the second year I helped organized the local Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for Homeless’s family shelter.

Record photo editor Craig Sanders, Lodi-based photographer Jennifer Mathews-Howell, my long-time college friend Karen Kline from Alameda, her sister Nancy Rosso and my daughter Claire who all helped out in last year’s event, returned to lend a hand again.

New for this year was wedding photographer and Channel 31 engineer Ben Wong from Sacramento, whom I have known for about 30 years. Former Sacramento Bee photographer Brian Baer is one of the best photojournalists around, and when he heard about the event, he jumped at the chance to help.

Mike Clipka had been a member of the Stockton Camera Club for years and does event photography in addition to his job at the Post Office. Caroline’s Photography is a familiar portrait studio in Stockton, and owner Kevin Richtik was eager to help out this year, and it was a major coup for us to have a photographer of his reputation and expertise.

Though not a photographer, Anne (pronounced ‘Annie’) Tran of Stockton heard about the Stockton event through the Help-Portrait Community Web site on which I set up a local Stockton group. She volunteered her time and brought along two friends, fashion/portrait photographer Mike Chaves and former Lifetouch photographer David Lou, both from Stockton.

Former Channel 13 videographer and current McNair High School teacher Cyndy Green brought along three of her students to shoot some video. Tim Ulmer of Ulmer Photography in downtown Stockton provided two machines to make on-site prints.

Last year, friends of Family Shelter director Katie Visser, Jennifer Pascua and Dannielle Afoa, voluneteered to style the hair and apply make up for the subjects. They returned this year and were augmented by 50 students from the Marinello School of Beauty who also volunteered their time to help do haircuts, hair styling and makeup, as did Mary Kay beauty consultant Connie Layman.

We even had some help for people who weren’t even there. Record online editor Tara Cuslidge dropped off 3-dozen donuts early in the morning (a boon because we didn’t have time for lunch). A customer of Ulmer’s gave him $100 and Record editor Mike Klocke donated $200 with which we bought frames though Ulmer at a wholesale cost of $2 apiece. We ended up shooting more than 150 portraits and gave out over 500 4×6 and 5×7 prints.

Tim Ulmer was already on site when my daughter and I arrived at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless at about 8:30 a.m.. We began setting up, and the rest of the crew had shown up by about 9. Once we had all our gear, studio lights and backdrops put up, we waited for the Marinello students to finish pampering our clients. By about 10:30 we were going at full speed. Anne Tran escorted ready clients to waiting photographers at one of four portable studios we had set up in the shelter’s multipurpose room. Sanders, Ulmer and I downloaded photos onto our computers and worked with the subjects to pick the best photos. My daughter helped with making the pictures at the print stations that Ulmer brought.

We worked through lunch at a furious pace with photographers tag-teaming the shooting duties. We shot families, single women and single men from the nearby men’s shelter. There was a little lull at about 2:00 p.m. and I was able to stretch my legs for a bit, but there was still a steady stream of subjects. Things picked up again after about 3 when the school-aged children came back to shelter. There were some wonderful stories.

Men’s shelter resident Pedro Esqueda said that he had five children in Arizona he wanted to send pictures to them for Christmas. 16-year-old Nikki Sasser had never had a picture of her mother, Lori, and her together until Monday. Later in the day she showed me a bulletin board covered with the pictures that we shot of them together.

At the end of the day about 6:00 p.m., we were nearly done and the bulk of the volunteers had already gone home. With nearly all of our equipment packed away just a handful of us remained, ready to call it a night. It would be just a few minutes more for the final prints to be done and then we would be out of there.

Then a family walked in, a little girl in tears, clutching her aunt. The aunt, Frances Shaw, said that 8-year-old Maria Mendez was crying because she believed that they had missed getting their picture taken. We told them not to worry, we would photograph them.

Kevin Richtik quickly unfolded a collapsable background and set up a couple of posing chairs he hadn’t yet put away. He and Annie Tran held it up by hand. I quickly grabbed a camera, but all of our studio lights and stands were packed up. I used a small flash from my bag and used an off-camera cord to connect it to my Nikon. Craig Sanders served as a human light stand by holding the flash to the side and aiming it upward to bounce the light off the low ceiling. Tim Ulmer found a small white blanket and held it close to the family to serve as a bounce card to reflect some of the light into the shadows.

The tears in Maria’s eyes faded and a smile took over her face as I shot a group picture of her with her aunt and her twin 6-year-old siblings Gabriella and Michael Arroyo as well as individual photos of all of them. It was the epitome of people coming together to help brighten the day of those in need.

Is there the value of a photograph, some price tag we can put upon it? Perhaps not, for the worth of a picture is something more intangible From the smiles that we captured that day, we all found out that a picture is priceless.

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