i had heard about help portrait before. i knew it was one of those "give back" things, started by nashville photographer, jeremy cowart. basically, it's a day where they provide people who wouldn't ordinarily have the opportunity the chance to get their photo taken by a professional photographer.
but even as i said those words out loud to describe it to people who didn't know what it was––even as i sat in a chair, coffee in hand, at 7:30 that morning at orientation––i didn't really understand the significance. it's not feeding them, or clothing them, it's taking their photo.
i knew it was helpful, mostly because people described it that way, but i didn't really know why until i was there, in the portrait studio room, with a mom and her almost five-year-old daughter while they got their photos taken.
their story wasn't particularly heart-wrenching like many of the ones they highlight on social media, as a way of pinpointing how great of an impact this day actually has. in fact, i didn't even know their story at all. but i watched as the mom held her daughter on her right hip and fanned herself with her left hand, as she adjusted and re-adjusted her shirt so it would look just right, as she brushed her hair away from her eyes and asked if it looked okay.
"these lights are so hot," she said, fanning her face again, and i could tell she felt unsure about everything. "i just feel like i look shiny."
and then, after they took their photos and she saw the results, she commented on how good they looked, how you couldn't even tell she was sweating. then, she watched as her daughter stood in front of the camera all by herself for the very first time, with tears streaming down her face.
later, i helped them pick out frames for their photos and wished them well as they went off to meet up with friends.
the rest of the day, i was up front, helping people check in and giving directions on where to go and what to do and it didn't really hit me until later.
we aren't giving them food or clothing, or even a photograph they wouldn't have otherwise had. we're giving them confidence and encouragement and a chance to see that they ARE beautiful.
i didn't think about it much before i volunteered that day, but photography can help another person feel like they're worth something, and giving them a chance to see it in a way they wouldn't be able to by just looking in the mirror.
it's putting a person in front of a camera (and, at help portrait, they provide hair and makeup and wardrobe services as well), taking a professional photo of them, and saying "look at YOU."