Stanley-Carl du-Pont is an H-P organizer for CODP Help-Portrait in Johannesburg, South Africa. He offers an overview of his group’s ambitious plan for 2011. We hope it inspires you as much as it has us.

South Africa is a country of many contrasts: From having one of the widest wealth gaps between rich and poor, to being the largest economy on the African Continent; from being the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, to having unemployment as high as 25 percent.

Help-Portrait is therefore a project perfectly suited to this unique environment, and one that adds tremendous joy to the lives of many, many people. So many, in fact, that the CODP Help-Portrait group is aiming to give 25,000 portraits this year.

The team of volunteers already numbers more than 100 photographers, with a dedicated volunteer work group facilitated by the College of Digital Photography in Johannesburg driving the group onward and upwards.

The target of 25,000 portraits is not arbitrary – it’s based on the success of the group’s efforts in 2010 that yielded more than 5,500 photos. These were taken of individuals in needy communities and included abandoned and orphaned babies, toddlers and children, the homeless, disabled and elderly people across the South African rainbow nation.

Three months of shooting

Tackling a task as monumental as this requires intensive co-ordination and forward planning, and a little flexing of the original Help-Portrait model.

For a start, the portraits are going to be captured over a period of three months – from September to December. The bulk of the images will be captured in the first two months, with the team fanning out to rural communities, informal settlements and squatter camps where the “neediest” are to be found.

Children in under-privileged schools will also be targeted as that is a sure-fire way to gather large numbers of beneficiaries together. As an added value to these schools, a complete set of digital images will be provided for use for the schools’ records and yearbook.

Due to the demand and popularity following last year’s program, CODP Help-Portrait is also actively expanding to other provinces, and even neighboring countries, with the project team taking these fledgling Help-Portrait enthusiasts under its wing.

Adding value to photographers

Reaching the targeted number of portraits is as much a function of the organization behind the events as it is about getting the volunteer photographers confident and geared up to shooting groups as large as 400 people or more.

For this reason, the project team has arranged a number of workshops to help less-experienced photographers tackle shooting portraits under variable lighting and on-site conditions. Free training is being provided by some of the more accomplished team members, as well as trainers from the College of Digital Photography.

Taking the concept even further

As if setting such an ambitious target for the year is not daunting enough, the project team has added other elements to its activities that directly address needs in the country.

The first of these is job creation, with a sub project – Help-Portrait PhotoStar – initiated to develop at least four candidates from under-privileged backgrounds to the point that they can confidently enter the market as independent, self-employed “PhotoStar” photographers by the end of the year.

Educational training will be provided by the College, with discussions currently under way with equipment providers and professional photographers who will sponsor their kit. Help-Portrait volunteers who are working professional photographers will provide mentorship and in-service training.

In addition, CODP Help-Portrait will be launching Help-Portrait Goes2Town to involve volunteers in visiting smaller towns to create a complete photographic collection that showcases the town’s landscape, people, arts, food, and other aspects that may be of public interest. This material will then be provided to the town’s local administration as well as national tourism bodies to promote interest and economic activity in those areas.

Another initiative, Help-Portrait Exchange, seeks to encourage volunteer exchanges between CODP Help-Portrait and other Help-Portrait groups, while Help-Portrait 4PBOs encourages volunteers to offer free photography services to public benefit organizations that serve needy communities.

The merits and benefits of Help-Portrait continue to enchant all who are touched by it. And the proof of this is borne out in the way the project is expanding rapidly and also in the unexpected ways in which it can so easily be added to.

Giving free portraits will always be the project’s mainstay and that has provided a great foundation to build on using three key pillars: giving back, giving freely and giving through photography.

It is hoped that by sharing knowledge, stories and experience with the greater Help-Portrait community, that others too will be inspired to get further involved in their communities in need.

CODP Help-Portrait has also posted a discussion thread inviting other Help-Portrait groups to consider partnering with their group on their new Exchange initiative. Join the conversation!

Here are some photos shared with us from CODP Help-Portrait that were taken during the hand-over and distribution of portraits.

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait

CODP Help-Portrait