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Help-Portrait’s Non-Profit Dissolves, But Movement Lives On

If you haven’t heard of the Help-Portrait movement, the idea is pretty simple: photographers and other volunteers get together and donate time and resources to provide portraits to those who can’t afford them. Its founder, Jeremy Cowart just announced that the non-profit organization that runs Help-Portrait is dissolving, but he wants the movement to live on.

For the past few years, I’ve been one of the lead organizers of our local Help-Portrait event here in Northwest Arkansas. We typically do two events a year: a family portrait event in December on the global Help-Portrait date, as well as a high school senior portrait event in the spring. Though the senior event is smaller, the family event is big, with a hot lunch served, activities for the kids, and about 100 families walking away with a CD of portraits, print-release, and a 5x7” print in a frame. It’s tough wrangling photographers away from weddings on a Saturday, but they always say it’s worth it.

So, I was a little disappointed when I read this letter from Jeremy Cowart that details why the national Help-Portrait organization is going to be shutting its doors.

Here’s an excerpt:

Every single person who has ever been part of a Help-Portrait event has a story to share from it. Our blog catalogs some of those. You can look at the hashtag #HelpPortrait for even more.

But for all of the organizing that happens for it each year, it’s been the movement that’s fueled Help-Portrait, not the nonprofit.

YOU, the volunteers, the directors, the photographers, and the makeup artists have driven this event to become what it is today.

Because of that, after this year’s event, we are shutting down the official nonprofit known as Help-Portrait, Inc.

What I’ve come to realize is that not only is the nonprofit unnecessary, but raising money to fund its existence takes away from the actual events where others can be helped.

Help-Portrait is by no means over. It will continue to live on as long as there are photographers and volunteers who want to continue to give back with what they’ve been given — the ability to see people for who they are and to give them a symbol of their worth and dignity — a printed portrait.

Thank you for taking a simple idea and bringing it to life. Lives around the world have been touched and changed because of your involvement and will continue to be as long as you allow it.

While I’m disappointed that the organization is shutting down, I have no intentions of stopping organizing our local event, and I hope you don't either. The people who come and benefit from it – mostly recruited from local community meals events, homeless shelters, and other places where the people who need our help the most tend to find themselves – are always blown away by the kindness shown to them by others at Help-Portrait. They aren’t looked down upon for being down on their luck but photographed and made to feel like they still matter. I feel like it's too good of a mission to end entirely.


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michael buehrle's picture

cool thing they do.

Deleted Account's picture

I don't understand the point. If some of the subjects are homeless, how does a portrait help them, aside from possibly lifting their spirits, which of course is a good thing? Feeding them, of course, is great.
For seniors photos, how do they establish who is in need vs. who just wants free portraits? I'm not trying to be cynical but, I would think it would be more helpful to take resume photos for low-income, young adults, looking for employment or something along those lines.

gabe s's picture

Because it is doing something nice for other people. I've done this for several years. Just because somebody is homeless doesn't mean they don't need a nice picture of themselves. Some of our people have sent them to family, or used it as motivation to get sober. We have had families that lost everything, or were seeking asylum that needed some encouragement, and getting a professional picture of your family (especially single moms) right before Christmas is life changing.

As for the senior aspect of it, we went to guidance counselors at a local school and asked what seniors would be the most in need of something like this. We had almost 20 seniors sign up.

Deleted Account's picture

Thanks for the explanation. That makes a lot of sense.

gabe s's picture

We go to local homeless shelters/services.

Stephen Ironside's picture

I'm not sure how other events work, but for ours we reach out to the local homeless shelter, battered women/family shelter, etc., and get our sign-ups that way. For senior portraits, we work with school counselors. Kids are generally on the free/reduced lunch program, and the counselors typically know the kids who are the most in need and send them our way. Everyone is signed up in advance. There aren't walk-ins. If you're obtaining those services, you're probably never going to have spare money to purchase photography services, so it works..

Spy Black's picture

"What I’ve come to realize is that not only is the nonprofit unnecessary..."

So does he plan to turn it into a profit one? I don't get that remark.

paul aparycki's picture

It always was a for profit scam. Guess Jeremy can't sell enough t-shirts and "help portrait starter kits" to warrant the expense.

The sad part is that while it did have some legitimacy it enabled those who really wanted to help have a base to lever help from sponsors . . . . i.e. The loan of printers, donation of media etc, donation of space. That leverage is now dead.

All because Jeremy didn't make enough money selling his scam t-shirts.

Stephen Ironside's picture

Hi Paul, have you ever participated in or helped organize a Help-Portrait event? It doesn't seem like it.

I don't think it's fair or makes any sense to assume it was "always a for-profit scam." It never cost any money to run a Help-Portrait event. The downloads for all of the release forms, waivers, print releases, etc., were all free. We never had to buy anything.

Our local sponsors who donated food, hair/makeup services, etc., didn't seem to care about the 'national organization' aspect of it. They just wanted to help at the local level. I don't foresee that changing at all.

Pretty sure Jeremy is successful enough as a photographer to not need to sell 'scam t-shirts' to make money.

Stephen Ironside's picture

Spy -- I think he just meant that he didn't see the organization as necessary any longer for the success of the movement, since they're all basically independently organized. They will still be collecting statistics each year to show how many people are participating, it seems.