Help-Portrait is a campaign started in 2009 by Nashville-based photographer Jeremy Cowart to give back to the less fortunate. His simple 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 boost their self-esteem.
Fueled and spread by social media such as Facebook, Help-Portrait, now in its 4th year, has became a world-wide movement. I’ve helped to organize Stockton’s own event each year at the Stockton Shelter For The Homeless to coincide with the larger movement.
Amateur photographer and dear old friend of mine Karen Kline of San Leandro returned for the 3rd time in 4 years. Two photographers who both were new to the project represented opposite ends of the spectrum. Gina Halftery answered my call for photographers on Facebook. A veteran shooter formerly of the Tri-Valley Herald, she now photographs weddings. Safiyyah Scoggins is a self-taught freelance photographer who’s only been in the business for a few years. Both brought an eagerness and enthusiasm to their work and not only made great pictures but made the whole experience for our subjects enjoyable and memorable.
Hair stylist Jennifer Pascua has signed up to cut and style hair for all four years of Help-Portraits. Stockton residents & Mary Kay consultant Connie Layman helped out to do cosmetic makeovers in the event’s first year and as back again this year, also bringing along with her fellow consultant Alice Rabara. In addition several students from the Hollywood Beauty College, who were onboard for the first time volunteered their time also do hair and makeup. Together they made the photographers’ job easier. By making our subjects look good, they helped to make them feel good about themselves and boosted their self-esteem and made things easier for the photographers. The Hollywood students are making arrangements to do their makeovers at the shelter on a monthly basis.
Former Record Graphics editor Sheldon Carpenter helped out with editing and computer work. He used gentle humor and charm he aided our clients in choosing the best picture to print.
Tim Ulmer of Ulmer Photo in downtown Stockton is returning for the 4th year and proved, as in years past, invaluable to the project. Not only did he bring machines to provide 4 x 6 prints on site, but brought along studio lights, backgrounds and posing stools as well.
My 17-year-old daughter Claire Oto has helped out all 4 years of the event. This year she mainly downloaded and edited photos. This year she brought along her friend Madison Whaley, 17, who helped out with everything from distracting reluctant children to downloading some images herself.
About 100 portraits were taken of residents of both the shelter’s family and men’s facilities and more than 400 prints were given out.
I sensed a quiet pride about Doug Hoang as he posed for a picture with his 7-year-old son Alexander. He told me that he has never had a photo of his son and himself. When our session was done with gratitude and humility he quietly thank me for taking their picture.
Ray McCoy, a resident of the men’s shelter, has lived in the Stockton area since about 1990. Need the assistance of a wheelchair a friend pushed him into our makeshift studio that we set up in the family shelter’s dining area. He told me that he hadn’t seen his family in Oklahoma and Louisiana since the ‘90s and wanted to send them photos for Christmas.
McCoy’s friend, Troy Thomas, then had his turn. Posing for Safiyyah Scoggins, he stood straight, tall and proud, looking like a GQ model in the resulting photos. After receiving his prints and on his way out the door with McCoy, in a deep booming voice he gave us a shout out: “Thank you photographers! And God bless you!” And while it was the photographers who got the credit, it really was a team effort to bring holiday memories and smiles to all involved.