This tends to be a pretty emotional time of year for me. The three-month stretch between October and December marks several anniversaries. Defining moments. For starters, it was ten years ago that I left briefcases and courtrooms behind for camera bags and studios. I think that anyone who says that they’ve “never looked back” after making such a monumental change is either getting a little too dramatic with their bio, or is just better than I am at compartmentalizing the past. My past got me to my present– and will hopefully do the same for my future. How can I not look back from time to time and reflect– or even question it on the bad days? As for other autumn milestones, it’s been fourteen years since I married WAY out of my league and embarked on one of Life’s greatest adventures. Unfortunately, though, this is also when I have to pause and remember my father, whom I lost to cancer four years ago this week.
While my dad was not a professional photographer, he was extremely talented with a camera. I still go through his photos every so often, looking for inspiration or reminiscing about the countless hours we spent in the darkroom when I was a kid. But in addition to all of the hats he wore– husband, father, dentist, friend, photographer– he was also one of the most charitable men I’ve ever known. He was never flashy about it. It wasn’t about recognition. He knew what he was doing, and that was enough for him. He didn’t hide his generosity, but he didn’t advertise it either. It was more for their dignity than his own, that he’d often give in such a way that the recipients of his kindness never knew the source.
Being a father myself, I am thinking more and more about my father’s legacy, and the one I hope to leave behind some day. I wish that I could be even half as generous financially as he was, but I can’t. I can, however, set the bottom line aside from time to time and use this camera sitting on my desk in any number of ways that can hopefully bring some good to people’s lives. Photographers are not unique in the challenges we face every day. Like everyone else, we have bills to pay, families to feed, and businesses to run. We do, however, have the ability to help people in a unique way.
If you Google the term “photographic philanthropy,” you’ll find articles about and lists of organizations across the United States and around the world, striving to make not only an impact, but a true difference in the lives of people in every walk of life through photography. You may have already heard of some– perhaps you’re even already active in a cause. In either case, this is the perfect time of year to find a way to get involved and give something back through your photography.
HELP PORTRAIT was launched by photographer Jeremy Cowart in 2009 and has really become more of a movement than an organization, bringing together photographers, makeup artists, and volunteers who “give” (rather than “take”) photos of those less fortunate. Help Portrait’s mission is to “equip, connect, and mobilize volunteer photographers around the world to help them give back to their communities.” At its most basic, it’s a pretty simple formula– Find someone in need and photograph them. Since its inception, Help Portrait has given roughly 277,000 portraits.
COLLECT.GIVE was also founded in 2009, by photographer Kevin J. Miyazaki when he decided to sell a limited edition print on his website, with the proceeds to be donated to charity. Within weeks, he had recruited other photographers created an on-line gallery of limited edition prints for sale, with the photographers pledging 100% of the proceeds of their sales to the causes of their choice. So far, Collect-Dot-Give has sold approximately 800 photos and raised over $43,000 for charitable causes.
PHOTOGRAPHERS WITHOUT BORDERS has a simple, yet huge mission– “to sell beautiful images of people and places in our world, with the profits going back into education in the countries of origin.”
FLASHES OF HOPE was started in 2001 in Cleveland, Ohio by the parents of a child with cancer, and has grown to a volunteer-driven organization with chapters in 55 cities. Focusing solely on children with cancer and their families, Flashes of Hope has photographed almost 32,000 children– more than half of the children annually diagnosed in the United States. Local chapters work with hospitals and camps to provide free family portrait sessions, giving families a brief respite, as well as positive, lasting memories.
HEARTS APART This is another one that is near and dear to my heart. Founded in 2010, HeartsApart.org provides soon-to-be-deployed U.S. military personnel with family portraits printed on durable, waterproof cards, sized to fit in combat uniform pockets. They have recently expanded to include baby portraits when a deployed father has been overseas and missed the birth of their child.
Keeping it Local
These are all amazing organizations, and they really are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to national and international opportunities for making a difference through photography. While I have worked with some of them over the years, and might work with others in the future, for now I prefer to keep my primary efforts local within my community. I mean no offense to photographers who feel otherwise. Clean drinking water, medical care, education, and homelessness are all issues in dire need of assistance all over the globe. My personal philosophy, though, is that change begins in my own backyard. I have to be willing to give of myself and make my community a better place for everyone– not just those who can afford it– before I can turn my attention outward. Again, I’m not one to judge anyone’s causes. I applaud them all.
Two new projects have had my attention for a while. The first will bring professional wedding photography to families that can’t afford photography of any kind, while the second will offer free portrait photography to a community women’s shelter. Local rabbis and ministers will help select deserving families for the wedding project. It will start with one free wedding shoot per month, and will hopefully grow as I am able to get more photographers involved. One of these projects will help preserve memories, while the other will hopefully help overcome them. Wedding photography for low-income couples and portrait photography for women-at-risk trying to get back into the workforce may not be your idea of philanthropy, but that’s the beauty of it– we can all find ways to give back in some way. It’s not for us to judge each other’s instincts or priorities, but to evaluate our own and seek out the best opportunities to use them for positive change.
Those opportunities are not always obvious. Take some time. Look around. See anything that needs fixing? A void that needs filling? You don’t have to go far or even do that much to change the world. Somebody in your community needs help. Nobody is asking you to help them all– just those you can. Helping them with your checkbook is an obvious option, but you might be able to help them with your camera instead. We’re photographers, after all. We see things differently.