Early in December I stumbled across a web site called Help-Portrait which was started by Jeremy Cowart, a photographer from the US. The site was inspired by a desire to give back to the community in some way, and being a photographer, Jeremy decided to give in the form of photographs. The main idea was to coordinate photographers around the world to make portraits of people in need, and give them hard-copy prints as a gift. I thought this was a pretty cool idea, and so it did not take long to link up with an enthusiastic group of photographers here in Kelowna, and the ball was rolling. On December 12, the day of action prescribed by the Help-Portrait folks, we got to work and spent a full day shooting portraits in two locations. On the outset, we were the ones giving the gifts by donating our time, equipment, and prints. But, as the day moved on and we worked with more families and individuals for who this was a very special treat, I realized that we were all receiving gifts that day. As a portrait photographer, there is nothing more gratifying than subjects that are engaged and looking forward to the end product. These people were openly appreciative and grateful for the service we were providing. Their gratitude, and the joy this event brought to them, touched us all.
Later in the week, when I saw the first prints from the sessions, it certainly stirred an emotion in me. Looking at the faces of people I had briefly got to know, whose current situation was so different to mine, but whose beginnings where not always that different, I could not help but feel emotional about the images we had created. I imagined some of the mothers as they first looked on the portraits of their children, of the thoughtful look on some individuals and I knew that if my own joy at looking at these images was anything to go by, this would be a very special gift for the people in the prints. It was a wonderful experience and one I will gladly repeat next year.
Buying Christmas presents is always a struggle for me. How do I equate how I feel about someone to something I buy from a store? Yeah, getting something for your loved ones they really want is a great thing to do, but I always feel there should be more to it. So, this Christmas, inspired by the wonderful Help-Portrait sessions, I decided to do some portraits of my partner’s daughters as a gift. The gift then involved my time, energy, and creative effort. It is a much more meaningful gift in my mind. Not only that, the girls and I had a great time shooting the images which just adds to the joy! On Christmas Day, at our family gift opening, the smile on Shaunet’s face as she looked at her children in the prints was truly priceless. As the beginnings of tears welled in her eyes, I realized that this was another of those gifts that went both ways. How grateful I felt that the craft I am practicing could elicit such a heartfelt response in the ones I love. It also gave me a window into the hearts of those who would be receiving prints from the Help-Portrait sessions this Christmas.
Many people who know me understand that a large motivator in my photography is to make a difference in the world we live in. My experience with these portrait sessions really reinforced that for me, as I saw the joy in the eyes of my subjects and the recipients of the prints. But it also got me thinking about the business aspects of my photography and where the hidden gifts may be. Then I came upon this idea: for any paying photography work I do in 2010 I will donate 2% of the gross income to a Kiva loan account. Kiva is a not-for-profit organization that facilitates micro-loans to people in impoverished areas of the world. The goal of Kiva is to alleviate poverty by assisting entrepreneurs to become self sufficient. To find out more about what they do and how, check out Kiva.org So, starting January 1st, 2010, if you spend $100.00 with me I will add $2.00 to my Kiva loan account. Spend $2000.00 and it will be $40.00–you get the idea. This money will then be loaned and re-loaned through Kiva.
Looking back on 2009 I see it as a huge time of change and transition for me. I have received many gifts, some of which I did not fully understand the value of when they were dropped into my hands! But hey, that’s all part of the growing, right? So, I wish for everyone that 2010 may be filled with may gifts for you all, but most of all, that some of the gifts you receive come from your own giving.