For six hours on Saturday, a Lodi church was transformed into a professional portrait studio. But the photo subjects didn’t pay a dime for the high-quality images they took home. This was a free photography session for disadvantaged families called Help-Portrait, and it brought smiles to the faces of Lodians who hadn’t been in front of a camera for years.
“It’s a reminder that they are worth being pampered for a few minutes,” said organizer Jennifer Howell. “It’s a reminder that they are worth the photo.”
Help-Portrait was started in 2009 by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart. It’s an international event that allows photographers to use their time, equipment and talent to give back to the less fortunate in the community. Lodi portrait and family photographer Howell has assisted photographer Clifford Oto with the Stockton event since its inception, but she wanted to bring the program to Lodi.
“It took a long time for me to do this,” she said. I was too scared, or too busy.”
But telling Remedy Church Pastor Mark Thompson made the project real.
“Once I told him, and put it on my blog, I knew I couldn’t back out,” said Howell.
About twenty volunteers organized the event in the basement rooms of Remedy Church on Central Avenue.
Photo subjects were greeted with coffee and cookies, then escorted into a hair and makeup room to get ready. Local stylist Sarah Chase combed and brushed hair, and added just a touch of makeup to women’s faces.
Chase volunteered her time after hearing Howell’s announcement during a church service.
“I wanted to use my talents in a productive way,” she said. “It’s nice to see people feel good about themselves.”
From there, the subjects entered a makeshift photo studio to pose in front of a simple white backdrop. Photographers guided them through a few simple statures, then uploaded the photos to a computer for editing. Within an hour of walking through the doors of the church, each one had a professional, polished and frame photograph of themselves.
Meanwhile, more volunteers walked the neighborhood to tell locals about the photography session, and drove to the Hope Harbor Shelter and Lodi House to talk with families about the event. By noon, carloads of children and their parents were pulling into the parking lot, ready for their turn in the studio.
Debra Kemmir took her framed photograph gently in her hands and examined it for several quiet moments. She said it had been years since she had a proper portrait taken.
“Oh, this looks, OK, doesn’t it?” she said. She planned to give it to her parents, Herb and Diana Schulz.
Maria, who didn’t give her last name, nearly left without taking her picture with her. Howell and two assistants explained it was hers, that she got to keep it. Her face lit up in a smile as she looked at her portrait, then tucked it into her bag.
“She kept saying she was ugly, but she isn’t. Every wrinkle, every crease is a joy or a hardship that’s been overcome,” said Howell. “Maria is beautiful. But sometimes people forget that about themselves.”
Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.