Picture This 3

Help-Portrait pays it forward

The maze of rooms within the Rocky Mountain School of Photography is hurried with footsteps. There is a woman holding a brush to another woman’s face, her eyelashes fanning up toward the ceiling. A few steps away is a man adjusting his tie, his wife cooing to a sleeping baby dressed in a Christmas outfit. Flashes of light come from another room, where all faces are smiling at each other or a camera. 

This day is the same in hundreds of cities, known as Help-Portrait Day—a global movement of photographers, hairstylists, and makeup artists using their time, tools, and expertise to give back to those in need. While it’s the perfect opportunity for families who may not have access to professional portraits, or someone looking to climb the ladder with a professional photo, it’s also a day of humbling for service providers, a chance to put aside their marketing for a portfolio, website, or sale and give the gift of their talents. 

“Everyone who’s involved benefits in some way. It’s just a really unique thing, how it touches people’s lives,” said Johanna Bouma, the Help-Portrait coordinator for Missoula. “I reached out to different educators around town and different nonprofits. I just let them know it was happening and each year more and more people reach out to see if it’s happening again.”

Like the spread of most good things in our community, word of mouth has been the most powerful form of getting the word out to those who could benefit from this day of giving. It’s also a lot like the way Help-Portrait began, globally. Jeremy Coward and Kyle Chowning offered their talents at no charge as a way of giving back. Since then, there have been more than 3,000 events in almost 70 countries worldwide. 

“We say we like to give back whenever possible, and I think that there [are] ways to do that with photography,” said Brandon McMahon, a RMSP graduate. “It’s really nice, especially now with so much work being digital, to send someone home with a printed photo.”

On the way back to the front doors, there is a line of men, women, and children—brothers and sisters toying with one another’s clothes or hair. On the wall are readied photographs, each one stark with humanity—laughing, kissing, wrapped in warm embrace.