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DALLAS — It’s hard to imagine that looking into a lens might be a luxury. “We have cameras in our pockets and in our purses,” said photographer Taylor McCabe. “We can document things whenever we want and post them to Facebook when we get home. Truth is, that’s not a luxury everybody has.”
On a recent Saturday morning, Cornerstone Baptist Church was packed with people who know the power of pictures. “A lot of times we get photos every day,” explained Pastor Chris Simmons. “To see individuals who don’t have that opportunity look at themselves really makes your heart feel good.”
“I have a 17-year old daughter that I gave up for adoption,” Anna Jennings confessed as she teared up. “I’m getting all emotional. She just made me this beautiful book of the pictures of her life when she grew up since I couldn’t be with her. I don’t have any good pictures to give her, so one of the pictures is going to go to her so she can see what I look like.” Jennings is among hundreds who lined up and waited for an expensive experience they can rarely afford: posing for a portrait.
“It’s not cheap,” Linda Mason said. “[Portrait companies] tell you $19.99. With all the photographs it’ll be $67 or $85. That’s a lot.” And that’s what drew so many here — the people who don’t own cameras, are rarely photographed or are often priced out of professional portraits.
“It’s kind of a reality check,” said Larry Richardson of Park Cities Baptist Church, which co-sponsors the photography event. Twenty-five generous photographers, part of a world-wide movement called Help-Portrait, offered their time and talent to Dallas’ low-income for free. They cleared out all the chairs in the sanctuary at Cornerstone Baptist Church and set up almost a dozen photography stations. Each person photographed received a professional 8×10 portrait. “They often times feel as if they’re invisible,” Pastor Simmons added. “So when they see that snapshot of themselves it reminds them that ‘I am an individual. I do exist, and I do have worth.’
” It did for Charlton Johnson. “I’m 51,” he said. “Last time I took one was when I was 33.” If distance keeps him from seeing his three grandchildren, he wants them to see him. “I’d like them to know who I am,” Johnson said. “I really do. Because my grandfather passed when I was young, too.”
“Some of these people never see themselves. They don’t have the opportunity to look in a mirror. They don’t have the reason to look in a mirror. Then you provide them with a professional taken photograph and they look at themselves and many see a value there that they may have forgotten about,” Richardson said.
Aretha Brooks hiked two miles for her portrait. “If people look at these pictures,” she said, “they’ll never think we’re homeless or we live in a shelter.” Brooks has been out of work since last year. She walked here from The Bridge, Dallas’ downtown homeless shelter. “The picture just made it seem like ‘Gosh! That is actually me. I still got it going on,’” she said after seeing her portrait. That’s the point of the pictures — to rekindle that spirit. Many homeless send their shots to loved ones. For some families, this is often a first. It’s tangible proof of existence; a portrait that’s priceless.