More than the numbers

“Find someone in need. Take their portrait. Print their portrait. Deliver it to them.” That’s the “mission statement” of the world-wide movement called Help-Portrait founded in 2009 by Nashville-based photographer Jeremy Cowert. That first year Cowert posted a video of his photographic call to arms on the Internet and it went viral, as they say, and it has gotten bigger every year.

I’ve helped organized the local Help-Portrait efforts at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless for the past three years. Once again I was blessed to have some compassionate and talented people help out.

My boss, Record photo editor Craig Sanders, who has participated in the two previous years, helped out once again and once again proved to be a valuable asset. From shooting to setting up lights to giving advice, he made the day go smoothly.

Tim Ulmer of Ulmer Photo was back for the third year as well. This year, as last, he brought portable printing machines that gave us the ability to deliver our subject’s pictures almost without delay.

My friend Ben Wong of Sacramento was back for a second year. He and I took photo classes together and went into newspapers together. He went on to become an engineer at KOVR 13 TV and still does portraits and weddings on the side. He’s the one my wife and I hired to shoot our wedding and made the day a memorable experience for us all.

Peter Cordero now lives in Sacramento but he grew up near then-Charter Way, not too far from the Stockton shelter. About three years ago he got his first DSLR camera and fell in love with photography. Self-taught, Cordero now does portraits, weddings and fashion photography through his fledgling He heard about Help-Portrait from a friend who helped last year and was eager to participate in this year’s event. He was a quick study, eagerly accepting tips from some of the more experienced photographers. His natural talent produced some great images.

Back for a third year were hairdressers Lyra Kimball and Jen Pascua who, along with first-timer Rhiannon Stafford, primped and preened and in general provided great hair and makeup services to all of our subjects.

Finally, my 16-year-old daughter Claire, who also has been with me for every Help-Portrait, helped by downloading and editing images to a laptop computer. She even got to shoot a few portraits as well. I don’t want to brag about the job she did, but I’m happy to say: “Like father like daughter.”

We shot more than 100 portraits of dozens of families and individuals and provided 369 4×6 prints and 62 8x10s.

In the first two years of the local event, due to scheduling difficulties, we weren’t able to hold it on the same day as the international one. We were about one week off the first year and a few days different the second. This year, we were finally able to coincide with the global effort on Dec. 10.

To me, it made it feel like we were a part of the larger movement, something that was bigger than each of us individually. It was kind of exciting knowing that at about the same time that we were photographing our subjects, others were doing the same thing in New York, Bangalore, India, or Frankfurt, Germany. The numbers from the Help-Portrait web site bear that out: 101,596 portraits, 10,574 photographers, 12,654 volunteers, 1,062 locations, 56 countries.

During the shoot, our subjects were appreciative of our efforts and gave us heartfelt thanks. Many said that they had never had a portrait of themselves or their families before. They ordered multiple prints not just for keepsakes for themselves but to send to their relatives.

Then it dawned on me, that although our numbers were small in comparison to the greater movement, that wasn’t the point. The point was to try to make a difference locally. To touch people’s lives and to try to make those lives just a little bit better.

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