December 12, 2009 in News

Photo project puts focus on portraits

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Esther Hunt and her father Jim are photographed by Jed Conklin, December 12, 2009 at the Saranac Art Project gallery in Spokane, Wa., as part of the world-wide Help-portrait event.
(Full-size photo)

For the first time in years, Michelle Christie posed Saturday morning for a portrait with her two children.

The trio, including Emma, 14, and Albert, 11, laughed, smiled and shared a special moment in front of a camera in a photo studio set up inside the Saranac Art Projects building at 25 W. Main Ave.

“This is a big step for us,” Christie said. “Things like family pictures aren’t in the budget.”

Expensive holiday portraits aren’t always feasible, especially for families like the Christies, who spent many months homeless, once living in a tent in someone’s front yard, before finding permanent housing through a social service agency.

But this year, with the help of photographers across the world, families such as the Christies were treated to free portraits as part of a movement called Help-Portrait.

“It’s just an idea that this guy had, and other photographers are jumping on board,” said Jed Conklin, a freelance photojournalist in Spokane who volunteered to take free portraits Saturday.

The idea was to spread hope and cheer, and the task was simple.

Photographers across the world united on the same day this year – Saturday – to find someone in need, take their picture, and then give away a free portrait. There is no official affiliation, just a chance for photographers to use their skills, time and equipment to go out and help somebody in need.

According to the Help-Portrait Web site, more than 7,000 amateur and professional photographers across the world participated. Organizers are hoping to make it an annual event.

Conklin and freelance photojournalist Rajah Bose, both former photographers at The Spokesman-Review, set up shop at the Saranac, where they are members of the art co-op. They provided free portraits to several needy families, as well as strangers walking by on the street, including a group of Russian journalists visiting from Moscow.

In Coeur d’Alene, a group of students from an advanced photography class at Coeur d’Alene High School approached Howard Martinson, the executive director of Fresh Start, a drop-in center for the homeless and mentally ill, at 16th Avenue and Sherman Street.

The students took portraits of more than 100 Fresh Start clients, Martinson said. Volunteers also provided haircuts and clothing, as well as free breakfast to those seeking photos.

“We had couples and children and families – it was just fantastic,” Martinson said. “It was a probably the best day ever at Fresh Start. We will definitely do this again next year.”

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