Don’t just take pictures, give them

In August of this year, I sat down with Jeremy Cowart, a well-known and respect photographer, and we shared a meal while he told me about this idea he had. He wanted to rally photographers across Nashville, and maybe even the US, to come together on 12/12/09 and give portraits to people who were unable to afford it. His idea was called Help Portrait and his slogan was, “Give pictures, don’t take them.” Immediately, I was drawn to the idea and volunteered to help.


In late-August, the Help Portrait website was launched in conjunction with this video:

Today, just 44 days since we launched the concept, here’s what’s happened:

  • well over 30,000 views of the video
  • 35,277 unique visitors to the website
  • 3145 people have signed up to learn more
  • 3312 Twitter followers
  • 3456 Facebook “fans”
  • 1318 people have signed up to participate
  • 217 locations around the world and at last count over 30 countries

WOW! Who knew that this simple idea would turn into a worldwide event?!?

Today, I had the pleasure of joining 15 photographers and a makeup artist to do a trial run at the Nashville Rescue Mission. helpportraitTo put it simply, today was amazing. We saw and heard stories that I’m sure we’ll never forget.

One lady, after getting hair and makeup done, stood in front of the camera and started crying. She said, “I’ve just never felt special before.”

A 53 year-old man stood in front of the camera, noticably excited. When asked, he said it was the first time he’d ever had his picture taken. EVER.

One guy must have had a hundred pictures taken of him. Clearly, this was a gift to him. He couldn’t get enough of it.

And on a different note, when I walked around and asked onlookers if they wanted their picture taken, one guy said, “What would I do with it? I don’t have anybody to give it to.” Another said, “I haven’t had my picture taken since going into the military in 1971.” When I encouraged him to have it taken anyway, he simply said he wasn’t interested. I wondered why?

What I learned today is that Help Portrait, something a handful of us have been trying to organize for 44 short days, isn’t an idea, or a movement, or about taking pictures. It’s about telling people that they matter. Lee Ann Dichtel, our liason for the Mission said it best when she said, “You have no idea what you’re doing for these people. Most of the time, when people see them walking on the road, they turn around and go the other direction. So to give them the opportunity to look them in the face and show them how beautiful they are, means a lot.”

Again, wow!

I’m honored to play the role that I’ve been graciously given in the Help Portrait story. I can’t wait to see what happens on 12/12/09.

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  • AnnieBlogs

    Amen, brother. Love it.


    …this was such a special day.
    my heart has been forever changed.

    thanks for being part of this Kyle. i loved seeing you there today!!!

  • Thomas Scott

    Very cool! Great idea and giving withing getting something in return is an amazing way to learn.

  • Mandy Shores

    WOW! I am so excited about December 12. As a Very new photographer… I have been so inspired by this project, and how so many are coming together to make it happen! Thanks so much to you and Jeremy (and all of the others!!) for working on this project!! :)

    • Chownage

      One of the best opportunities is the chance to connect with other photographers. At the recent Nashville event, we had photographers from all walks of life. From new to experience to wedding to rock stars….all in the same room. There are many benefits to being involved!

  • Becca

    You have no idea how excited I am!!! I told my husband and my best friend last week that I had this idea that I wanted to take pictures for some of the families we work with in inner-city Atlanta . . . I cant wait to go visit the website and learn more!!!

    • chownage

      I love your enthusiasm. YOU are what's making Help Portrait a success. Thanks and spread the word!

    • Chownage


  • Christine Elizabeth

    Ok, again, you (a collective 'you who have started this wave' you) have made me cry! Only this time I'm in the Apple Store waiting for my laptop to be fixed. ;)
    I'm so stoked to be a part of this event! We have put together a core group of awesome people in Omaha, NE, and we have a planning meeting this Saturday.
    I can't wait to read all of the stories after the big day!

    • chownage

      Christine…please keep us posted about how your event is shaping up. I'm so glad that you're on board!

  • Luigi

    I really think is a pointless and pretentious idea. Who do we think we are?
    Giving a picture to homeless people? To hung on the cardboard box they use as a shelter? It's quite offensive.
    Come one, be real…

    • chownage

      I appreciate your thoughts Luigi. However, I think you would have a hard time convincing any of the recipients of the pictures otherwise. They're reaction was exactly the opposite of yours.

  • mms

    Here in SLC, Utah we have 10 photographers so far, I'm the organizer of it :) We talked about doing a trial run like you all did…but we aren't sure where we would do that, because it would be great to know what to expect and what will happen. Especially great when we can act fast with problems with the light kits!

    I am so excited to be apart of this and so far we already have one organization interested and hopefully a donation of business cards for all of us!

    I have had people ask me what the point of it is as well…I tell them it's just giving back, feeling wanted, like there are people in this world that care and that the person getting photographed can see another side of themselves and you never know…that one picture might just change their life.

  • Steven

    This just moved me to tears. The line about the lady crying because she had, "never felt that special before" almost made my heart burst inside my chest. What an amazing thing for her.

    I am in the beginning changes of getting something going here in Memphis. I am so excited!

  • Jamilah

    i’ve seen everyone tweeting this… and everytime i’ve been on the website, seen the pictures, the video… every time i’m left with tears… now i’ve officially joined! and am so excited to be a part of this movement… 12/12 is going to be unforgettable… for the people we’re gifting… and for all photographers involved…

    • Kyle

      Thanks for joining us Jamilah! We’re gonna have a great time.

  • hairstyles1

    thanks for this great info,we try to help people with there hair all the time.

  • Jeff Goins

    Love this idea and glad to see it continuing.
    My recent post The Real John Lennon- Artist or Entertainer

  • Xander Lawson

    The title says it all. Whether it’s from a cheap digital camera or a high end one, pictures are best appreciated with others.