Recently ShareMySpace had the pleasure of connecting a local photographer, Nathaniel Dodson, with a local venue for a charity event. Help Portrait is an international movement to facilitate connections between photographers and their communities. Photographers donate their time once a year (or more often, if they want!) to take professional portraits of people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to photography – struggling families, the residents of homeless shelters, etc.
On Saturday, December 7, Nathaniel (Endy Photography) took part in this event. We were inspired by his project and asked if he would answer a few questions about the experience for us. He graciously agreed.
ShareMySpace: What kind of space did you need for this event? Was it hard to find an adequate available space?
Nathaniel: For our Help Portrait event we needed a space quickly. There had to be enough space for traffic to flow through freely while still allowing our photographers to set up the stations where they would photograph the people who’d signed up for free photos. We wanted a space with a healthy amount of natural light, high ceilings, and plenty of floor space, to allow our hair stylists, makeup artists, photographers, printers, and other volunteers to work together effectively. Finding a space that met our criteria, budget, and – most importantly – our timeline was very difficult. Adam from ShareMySpace worked hand-in-hand with us to make sure that we found the space we needed. It all came together quickly and beautifully in accordance with the plan.
ShareMySpace: We were pleased to be able to connect you with the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in Old City Philadelphia.
Nathaniel: Old First Reformed UCC is a beautiful location, steeped in Philadelphia history. It provided a great setting for our Help Portrait event. The layout of the church areas allowed us to create a wide variety of setups for the photographers, who each created a fairly personal area. The person being photographed could feel comfortable and receive plenty of one-on-one attention from the photographer. The space just worked. It just did.
ShareMySpace: What did you learn from participating in Help Portrait? How did the experience affect you?
Nathaniel: “Perspective” is the first word that comes to mind, and “humility” is a close second. The people who walked through the doors of the church led a variety of lives, from the young and timid child to the weathered homeless man seeking a brief moment of warmth in the heated interior of the church building. But they all had the same smiles and thanks and even tears when they held their very own portrait in their hands — some for the first time ever. This experience reiterated in my mind just how much anyone can help, even if just for a moment. One moment, one smile: that’s Help Portrait in a word.
ShareMySpace: Tell us about some of the people who got their portraits taken.
Nathaniel: One gentleman stood by my side as his image was printing and eagerly took it from my hand when it was done. He leaned in and just stared at his photo — almost like someone who had just discovered a mirror for the first time — murmuring “Thank you” and “This is amazing” and “This makes me happy” and “I didn’t know people did this kind of thing” and “Nobody has ever done something like this for me before.” Finally he stopped and looked at me and said, “Nathaniel, I’m 79 years old and I have never had my picture taken in my life. I’m going to go give this to my children and grandchildren so they don’t forget about me.” That moment will stick with me for a while.
ShareMySpace: What would you say to other photographers who are thinking about participating in this project?
Nathaniel: It’s quite simply an amazing, fun, and eye-opening experience that you’ll never regret doing. You meet so many great people, and most importantly you walk away having given people an experience that will live on with them and their families for a very long time — in the form of a small 4×6 photograph.
Here’s what some of our other volunteers had to say about the experience:
STEPHANIE DEFEO (Photography Student & Volunteer)
Help Portraits changed the way I viewed a photograph. As a student photographer at the University of the Arts, I don’t have much experience in the field. But Help Portraits showed me that there is meaning to a photograph. How the people we took pictures of handled that photograph of themselves, their reaction to it, was breathtaking. It isn’t something you can explain. You just have to take it in — that you created that picture in their hands.
I photographed six people. All of them touched my heart in different ways. This one lady lost her job over the summer and has been struggling to live. She loves fashion. She was a model when she was younger and (she said with a laugh) “more fit.” She thanked me so much and was almost in tears when she saw herself in the photograph. It made me smile so much I wanted to cry.
ALEX CERRATO (Lead Assistant for the project)
Helping Nathaniel to organize Help Portrait in Philly was a great experience for me. In France, I helped to organize many different charitable events and fashion events. It was great to do the same thing here: we connected people in need with a professional team of photographers, makeup artists, and hair stylists. I love connecting so many different people in so many different industries to collaborate for an amazing cause. This way our different skill sets and photographs mean something important and share a message of hope.
CHRIS DAWSON (Photographer & Volunteer)
Help Portrait showed me how easy it is to make a little bit of a difference in someone’s life. You can at the very least be a positive force for 10 or 15 minutes, giving them something they don’t get very often, if ever. Working alongside other photographers is good too! They’re not going to steal all your clients and your ideas.
I took portraits of some great people. There was Kendall. He didn’t really speak much English, so communication was a problem. But he quickly got the idea — and had a clear idea of which image he wanted to see. Mark was very shy and nervous. He had such a low opinion of himself, it was really hard to hear some of the things he said. We made a point of spending a good amount of time with him and being very positive about his images and helping him pick which was the best one. Marcus was a real talker with a big personality. He had some great ideas on different portrait stances. So expressive in the face. We had a hard time narrowing down the shots for this guy.
SUSAN HARNER (Chris’s Fiancé)
Just to add to what Chris said: I think we both agreed that our experience with Mark had the most impact on us. He had so many lovely qualities, especially his eyes, but it was immediately clear that he had heard only negative comments about himself for most, if not all, of his life. The words he would use to describe himself when he saw his photos were heartbreaking, and they had nothing to do with what we could see on the outside. We finally showed him one shot, and he said, “That’s what I look like when I’m into my music — I’m a musician.” He smiled and there was a little bit of a glimpse into something that he liked about himself. I’m happy we were able to reflect that back to him. Another moment that I’ll remember was when Marcus received his prints and said, “When I look at this picture, I can feel what I was feeling at the time — it’s like you got that emotion, and every time I look at it, I’ll be able to feel it again.” That’s all that we’re ever trying to do, I think, so this was really rewarding to hear.