Friday, December 25, 2009

Help Portrait

On December 12th, over 7000 photographers in 608 locations in 58 countries collaborated with a common cause. They used their time, talent and equipment to give back to the community by giving free portraits to those in need. The organization that made this all possible is called Help Portrait. Help Portrait was founded several months ago by Jeremy Coward and the idea spread like wildfire thanks to youtube.
In Orlando about 40 photographers went to the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida to help out. The Coalition for the Homeless is more than a shelter; it is a comprehensive program designed to empower homeless men, women and children to become self-sufficient. In addition to food and shelter, the Coalition provides programs and services including education, job skills training, case management, licensed day care, child development programs and housing placement.
When I arrived at the Coalition with Tisse Mallon, we were given a quick tour of the facility by Michael Hajek and shown all the rooms that had been set up with lighting and backdrops. The rooms were small and filled with photography equipment making things cramped. Tisse set up a spot to shoot portraits outside using a large bush as a backdrop and started to work with two other photographers. My original plan was to shadow Tisse throughout the day but the thought of sketching thousands of leaves outside was to daunting. I decided to sit in this tight little room and started to sketch one of the two makeup artists. I didn't sketch the photo shoots themselves since each shoot was over after just 15 shots and that is to a hectic pace for a sketch.
There were several news crews shooting video right from the start. They interviewed one mother who was having a family portrait taken for the first time ever. She cried as she thanked the Coalition, God and all the people who had come out to make this photo shoot possible.
In one day the Orlando photographers shot over 350 portraits. For me it was rewarding to watch the woman's reactions when the makeup artists showed them how they looked. Amy Tacner who is the makeup artist in the first sketch, said that the makeup for a fashion photo shoot could take up to two hours. Here she listened to what each person needed and worked with them, sometimes just removing some of the shine from their skin and always spending the time to make the person feel and look special. She had an amazing rapport with each person she worked with. Everyone is unique, and beautiful, and on this day everyone was reminded of that. As photos were taken the room was filled with laughter as the photographers and their subjects worked together, joking, connecting and sharing. With so many photographers on hand they started to take pictures of each other as the flood of clients slowed. I believe the gifts given this day go far beyond the images captured. What was freely given was respect, human dignity and love. Some gifts as simple as they are to give, are priceless. On this day men and women helped change the world one portrait at a time.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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