In this guest post, New York City-based commercial photographer Nick Onken shares the value of giving back, and about a special Help-Portait Tibet edition. Welcome Nick by adding a comment to the post below!

How appropriate in seeing as we’re amidst the Thanksgiving holiday. I would say traveling the world, seeing and experiencing other cultures has been the thing that has most shape my perspective on life and realize how good we have it. It makes you really appreciate the small conveniences that we don’t even ever realize we have here in the states. Beyond that, the ability to make a living taking pictures if you break it down to what it actually is, is quite a hard to come by thing in and of itself. This doesn’t exist in the harder to reach parts of the world. The ability to do something that you love, be creative, and live is something in rare form. It definitely takes a certain type of person that can deal with the sacrifice of stability especially in the beginning years, but if you can stick through it you can do it. That combined with the opportunity of living where I live allows me to do what I love and make money, and for that I am truly thankful.

That said, I feel giving back to the world is something we all should practice, despite whatever your situation, and where ever you are. I’ve been in some of the most remote places around the world, and so many times, the most simplest people are so kind, they will give you the shirt off their back. Everyone has their own situation, own capacity, and own way they can give back and that is what is the most important. For some people it’s the gift of money, for some it’s the gift of talent, some people it’s the shirt off their back.

I’ve always felt compelled to give back with the talent of photography that I feel I’ve been gracefully given. For me, I’ve been fortunate to connect with my good friend Adam Braun a couple years ago. He founded one of the now, fastest growing charities started in the last five years: Pencils of Promise. It’s been amazing to be a part of, and to see how my photography has helped them to blow up to where they are now. When I met Adam, we connected on the philosophies of the non-profit world of running a non-profit as a business(Check out Adam’s “For Purpose” talk at the Google Zeitgeist conference). In the end, money is what facilitates the cause. You must create an engine that allows the cause to be done. That engine is largely dependent on visual communications that convey to the potential donors what that organization is doing. When I started working with Adam, Pencils of Promise was just him, and he had built one school with another on the way. Fast forward two years later and we just broke ground on our 50th school. Last week at the PoP Gala, it was so exciting to see us raise over $1M in one evening. You don’t have to always give your services for free and shouldn’t if it’s your only source of income, but that’s something I’ve chosen to do with PoP because I feel it’s my way of giving back. It’s all what you feel personally. (Some posts of work I’ve done with them. Laos: Guatemala: Nicaragua:

Another different give back opportunity I just had was in Tibet with the people we came across. We took people’s portrait with a Polaroid to give to them. It was amazing to see their faces light up when they received the picture. Many of the people having never seen a camera before. It was such a great opportunity to give back and hear their stories. People in lower economical countries and circumstances don’t always have the opportunity and resources to have pictures of themselves. Giving people a print of themselves is something that they will treasure. We photographed this old woman, who was so excited to give the print to her grandson so he could remember her. Her face lit up with joy when we gave her the print. To be able to give something that is not monetary is in itself personally rewarding. This young monk, had made it to Lhasa on his pilgrimage (an intense 1.5 year journey of prostration. See my blog post to get a better understanding: We found him on the Barkor, and gave him a photo of himself and he too lit up with joy. I encourage everyone to give back with their own talents.

-Nick Onken

Are you the NYC area? Join the NYC Help-Portrait Community group.

Posted on Nov 30, 2011  |  Category: Inspiration  |  1 Comment
  • starbug starbug

    I am so glad to see that others are doing this. Several years ago while on a trip to India I met a fellow traveler and photographer with a Polaroid camera. While at the Rajastan camel fair he asked me to assist him when he "set up shop." Setting up shop meant he found one person among the crowd of villagers near our tent hotel who was willing to let him photograph them with his Polaroid camera. Many villagers crowded around him while the photograph developed. After many oohs and ahhs and some shouts of astonishment, the recipient of the photo ran away with the photo in his hand. A few minutes later he returned with the village elder, who was wearing a turban, followed by several women with bouquets of marigolds. With many polite gestures, the villagers indicated that they wanted us to photograph the elder, which we gladly did.Then the elder handed the turban to another elderly man and we photographed him and then a third elder wearing the turban. With gestures, we indicated to the village leader that we were willing to take a photo of him with the ladies carrying the marigolds. Suddenly his whole family congregated and we took a family portrait after the ladies with the marigolds insisted on giving them to us. We then had to leave for the Camel Fair, but when we came back there were several people "loitering" near the entrance to the tent hotel with hopeful expressions on their faces, including camel drivers, water boys and even Sikh guards hired to "protect" us. My traveler friend fortunately had a lot of Polaroid film and so we set up shop again and managed to photograph all those there. Some of the people had obviously never seen a photograph of themselves. One went off, squatted behind a tree and spent nearly an hour staring at his photograph. My new found fellow photographer very generously loaned me his Polaroid camera and all the remaining film when he found out I would be staying a month longer after the tour. I explained to my driver about the camera and the film and he took great pleasure in helping me find Polaroid photo opportunities. One day as we passed through a very small village in a remote area, he screeched to a halt and started pointing frantically at a group of people just leaving a nearby building. It was the wedding party of a poor couple. We leaped out of the car and after he explained what I wanted to do, I took several Polaroids of the wedding couple and gave them to the couple. I was immediately surrounded by a large group of villagers who all touched me. Later as we continued our trip, my driver explained that they were touching me because they hoped for some of the fortune I had brought that day to the couple. And he simply couldn't understand why I had not captured some wedding photos for myself but had only given. I strongly encourage anyone who can do so to take and give photos to people who will never have them otherwise.
    starbug | 10/12/2011 3:51 AM

Our friends at asked the Help-Portrait team to guest blog today on their site. Our volunteer staff gives some insight into what we do for H-P and how it’s impacted our lives. Check it out for a sneak peek at what goes on behind-the-scenes.

Read more: “It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring the Help-Portrait Team!”

How would you answer the questions they posed to us? Respond below:

  • What’s your favorite moment from your Help-Portrait experiences so far?
  • Why do you believe so much in Help-Portrait?
  • Why should others get involved with Help-Portrait?
Posted on Nov 30, 2011  |  Category: H-P Organizers, Inspiration  |  No Comments

This is a fun addition to the new apparel in the Help-Portrait store this year. These original Lens Bracelets designed by Adam Elmakias are made from durable black silicone with debossed red stripe and Help-Portrait Logo.

It also comes in a black 50MM style.

These bracelets were donated by Adam so all proceeds from your purchase will provide support to the Help-Portrait events, programs and services for the less fortunate. Visit the creator of the Lens Bracelet, Adam Elmakias.

Posted on Nov 29, 2011  |  Category: H-P Organizers  |  2 Comments
  • Lann Lann

    Look great! What size are they guys?
    Lann | 29/11/2011 8:53 PM

  • Barb Yasuhara Barb Yasuhara

    Where can we buy these????
    Barb Yasuhara | 05/12/2011 3:44 AM

Have you ever wondered what we do with the funds raised from donations, merchandise profits, etc. We present to you our 2010 Annual Report: a detailed look at what we, as an organization, accomplished in 2010, as well as the details about our income and expenses.

Our goal has always been authenticity and transparency. This is just one more way that we are keeping our promise.

Posted on Nov 28, 2011  |  Category: Updates  |  2 Comments
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    2010 Annual Report | Help-Portrait Worldwide » 07 DEC 2013
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Artists have created self-portraits since the beginning of time. Historically, an artist’s self-portrait has been known “as a public test of the artist’s skill.” A self-portrait, in artistic circles, could prove your worth.

Not only that, but wealthiest members of society have always commissioned portraits of themselves and their family as a way to prove their social standing. Painted portraits became especially popular from the Renaissance period on, where what you had hanging on your way reflected your place in society.

While the technological development of the camera, film and then digital brought photography to the masses, professional portraiture still remains a luxury most of the world cannot afford.

So when celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart began to dream of a way he could give back to his local community, two things became obvious: He’d use his camera, and he’d invite other photographers to join him.

Help-Portrait is a global event each December when photographers, stylists and other volunteers team together to give, instead of take, photos. The name turns the phrase “self-portrait” on its head, placing the focus on helping others.

The premise is simple:

  1. Find someone in need.
  2. Take their portrait.
  3. Print their portrait.
  4. Deliver it to them.

But why photos? What about the tangible needs of these people?

Good questions.

First of all, Help-Portrait events are independently organized, but most groups often work with local nonprofits to find their subjects. When doing this, groups not only set up set up backdrops, lights and makeup stations in homeless shelters, hospitals and poverty-stricken areas to give portraits to those who would never otherwise have them, they often provide a hot meal, clothes, shoes and a safe place for kids to play for the day.

We do meet physical needs. But we also believe the photo provides the most value. At these events the portrait becomes more than a representation of a person’s likeness or a keepsake. It becomes a receipt of an exchange between individuals, and the currency is dignity, courage, love and hope.

“Poverty steals a lot of things, like your home and car and food, but it also steals something on the inside,” Annie Downs, Help-Portrait’s Events Coordinator said. “Help-Portrait feeds that something on the inside.”

For many subjects, this photograph may symbolize the start of a new life, a celebration of sobriety, the first time one has ever felt beautiful or the only family photo that now exists. Phillip Jackovich, a Help-Portrait subject, surmised, “This portrait represents where I’m going, not where I’ve been.”

For many photographers, this experience may be the most fulfilling of their career to date. They may walk away with altered perspectives and newfound friends. Cowart says the event crosses cultural borders on one side of the camera and competitive borders on the other.

When people come together to work toward the common good, something magical and tangible is produced. It may look like picture, but it’s often worth more than a thousand words.

How would you answer the question, “How does Help-Portrait help?”

Posted on Nov 19, 2011  |  Category: H-P Tips, Inspiration  |  4 Comments
  • Help Portrait – 10 December 2011 Help Portrait – 10 December 2011

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    Help Portrait – 10 December 2011 | 19/11/2011 6:28 PM

  • Lee Lee

    I remember coming across a conservative blog last year that was critical of H-P, It said in part that how could giving a person a portrait of themselves really help with issues like drugs and mental illness that homeless deal with? One only has to witness the incredible boost in self esteem and in some cases tears of joy that come when people who struggle so much see a their portrait created by people who care.
    Lee | 19/11/2011 10:00 PM

  • laura bednarski laura bednarski

    great project jeremy. Years ago I too was bothered by the fact that only the wealthy could afford good pictures of their family. So glad you started this.
    laura bednarski | 28/11/2011 2:17 AM

  • Somai Somai

    Shirley - What a wounerfdl idea! So proud that you two are going to take part in this event. It touched me, and I’m sure it will touch all those you photo. Shirley
    Somai | 06/02/2012 9:07 PM

We’ve created a countdown widget for the 2011 Help-Portrait day. Embed it on your site by clicking here and copying the code. Can you believe it’s less than 30 days away?

Posted on Nov 10, 2011  |  Category: H-P Tips  |  No Comments

This tutorial shows you how to use our new Help-Portrait Photoshop templates for HP Photo uploads.

Posted on Nov 10, 2011  |  Category: H-P Organizers, H-P Tips  |  1 Comment
  • Lisa Hogan Autry Lisa Hogan Autry

    Great idea. Thanks for all you do Jeremy.
    Lisa Hogan Autry | 14/11/2011 8:55 PM

Help-Portrait is now on Google+ …. check it out, +1 us, add us to your circles, then share with your followers!

Posted on Nov 10, 2011  |  Category: H-P Tips  |  No Comments

This is a guest post from Frank Doorhof, who helps lead Help-Portrait in the Netherlands (help-portret). This is a look at how he got involved and how the Dutch do Help-Portrait.

My name is Frank Doorhof and  I’m based in the Netherlands. In “normal” life I’m a fashion photographer specializing in teaching workshops and shooting artists and models (and everything that is interesting in short).
When I joined Kelbytraining and taught my first PhotoshopWorld I got the chance to meet up with a photographer I really looked up to, Jeremy Cowart. And although we all are normal people (some more normal than others) Jeremy struck something with me, not with his photography (which I love by the way) but with the “other” work he did, one being Help-Portrait.

Now let’s make one thing very clear, I’m really busy as is Jeremy, but sometimes you just HAVE to do something, no matter what the costs, and while hanging out with Jeremy and getting to know him a little better I knew that I wanted to participate in Help-Portrait for 2011. But that is not really something I wanted to do small scale.

I knew there were some participants in the Netherlands in the previous years, but I really did not hear much in the media, or forums, magazines, etc. So I thought that it would be great if we could get all the Dutch photographers together and make a real fist towards the media, and as the saying goes over here “many hands make work lighter.”

I could not image that the responses would be so overwhelming.

We started a website with a small forum where people could join the “movement” and where could meet each other. Before we knew it there were so many people wanting to participate that I decided to assign certain regions to certain people.

After this the most difficult part started, and that’s getting the media into the project, somehow the media seems to be less than interested in the project.  The main problem is that they want a “famous” person in the “picture,” so at the moment we are just doing that.

In November we will release a Dutch theme song for Help-Portrait by a female singer and we hope that this will get us the media attention we need to make it a bigger success. However even if we don’t get the media attention it will probably work out fine. At the moment our team is contacting several organizations like the Salvation Army, local authorities, nursing homes, and we’re trying to get them to include small flyers for the people to visit help portret.

For our own location we have secured a wonderful school building. We choose this location because it’s in the middle of Emmeloord but still a bit hidden, meaning people can park in the shopping center and walk to the school and enter it without people seeing them. I’m doing the Help-Portrait sessions in my hometown, and we have a smaller community meaning some people will feel a bit hesitant to enter the building if everyone can see them going in; often people are a bit proud and don’t want to admit they are in need of help. In the bigger cities this is less of a problem and I know that some region heads have secured larger buildings that are easily accessible.

We will greet the people with coffee, tea and cake (the cake will probably be made by a nearby restaurant that has a lot of mentally challenged people working for them; in exchange for the cake we’ll give them nice images of course).

In our location we will setup seven studios. Each photographer will have his/her own studio and shoot tethered to a laptop. These images will be send to a NAS in the meeting space (which is nice and large and is in the middle of the studios) with the numbers of the studios. People can go there and choose with our editors the images they like, and they will be printed by Epson printers and given to the people.

One studio will be fitted with a large white seamless and people will be asked if they’d like to leave a note on they print. One print will be given to them and one print will be shared for the Help-Portrait movement with their story.

I don’t know how the other locations will work, this is how we work, but we communicate this to the region leaders and I think in the end it will all look a bit the same.

Our running projects at the moment:

We secured one of the largest printers in the Netherlands, Oypo, to take care of ALL printing we need on locations were the photographers cannot print themselves, they will also make a special space on their harddrive for all images with 0% margin, so people can order more or make posters etc.

This week has been very hectic with interviews and press releases that have gone out to all media, plus we are contacting some artists I know to see if we can get them on board to push the media.

It’s an ongoing battle, but we are 100% confident that Help portrait will be a huge success over here, the people are working REALLY hard, we’ve seen books with hundreds of pages of plans and region leaders running it like a small movieset with setlists, press releases etc., and some people are just doing it alone.

For the people who are participating we are now in negotiations with a printer to get small door posters with the Help=Portrait logo. This is why we think the media is so important: the logo has to be recognized by people.
Helping with that for the month November we have several so called “stopper” adds in a lot of magazines that are released nationally and are well read.

One thing I would like to add:

When I started organizing this I set one goal. I wanted Help-Portrait to be the best experience for the visitors in the Netherlands, but I also realized that if we were to communicate with the media it had to be uniform, so I clearly stated that national attention had to be run through our team, the reason for this is very simple. As a photographer I don’t need the attention of the media, I want to concentrate the focus 100% on Help-Portrait. Up until now all media attention has worked this way and has gone rather flawless.

Every country will do it differently of course, and every country has people with different needs. In the Netherlands there is some need for help but we have a reasonable good social system so we are a bit more flexible with the people we will help, I know for example that in some areas there is also a focus on visiting people in care houses, hospitals and street children. In the end it all boils down to one thing.

Give a message of hope.

Let people know that they are still there, and that there are people who care.

The hidden sadness of people can be irrelevant about having just enough money but it’s a feeling of not being worth anything and being forgotten, with Help-Portrait in the Netherlands we will also aim for those people and let them know that also they are worth having a great photograph.

We wish you all a GREAT 10 December, and our hats are off to Jeremy for getting a world movement into motion.

Posted on Nov 07, 2011  |  Category: H-P Organizers, H-P Tips  |  1 Comment
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