Stanley-Carl du-Pont is an H-P organizer for Ubuntu Help-Portrait in Johannesburg, South Africa. He offers an overview of his group’s ambitious plan for 2012.

In 2011 Ubuntu Help-Portrait volunteers hosted 95 portrait events and gave a staggering +13,000 portraits over 10 weeks to bring our tally to over 19,500 free portraits in three years.

A photographer development programme for six candidates from under-privileged backgrounds was launched with the support of Nikon South Africa who sponsored free equipment and the College of Digital Photography who provided free tuition. Free photography services at events hosted by charities serving people in needy communities were also piloted, with notable success being achieved through a partnership with Stop Hunger Now SA, an organisation committed to eradicating child-hunger in under-privileged schools.

So how can we possibly top that in 2012?

We made some choices

In the face of a growing programme that looked more like it would soon need an organisation, we chose to go back to the beginning – to our roots – to revisit who and what we were about.

Then we chose to remain a movement – nothing more.

We’re not and never aim not to become an organisation, a charity or any structured entity that requires “staff.” We’re staying 100% volunteer-driven and using 100% of any donations we receive to pay only for prints – nothing more.

We chose to strive to use photography to benefit needy people and communities for free.

In keeping with this, we undertook a complete review of what and how we do things – start to finish.

The key outcomes: a comprehensive programme of events planned to maximise volunteer experiences, new ways to inspire and equip volunteers to participate in more events while shooting better portraits and new programmes firmly rooted in giving back for free through photography.

2012 Free Portraits Programme

Free printed portraits for the needy remains our mainstay activity and in 2012, there will be approximately 180 events over 14 weeks to give over 25,000 free portraits.

At the heart of this, a simple challenge for our, now +170, volunteers: “50in4” to shoot 50 portraits at just 4 events. That could bring us easily with reach of our goal of 25,000 portraits for this year!

First off, a revamped RSVP for Events page that allows volunteers to select events by location, type or period. The events can also be viewed in the form of a map here.

We introduced new activities and worked hard to improve on-going communication that positions giving as also being about volunteers having fun through Portrait Challenges, scheduled Weekends Away and also Online Help-Nights.

Workshops that unleash passionate volunteers

Our free one-day portrait workshop for volunteers got a serious make-over to hit three hot-spots:

  • Inform new volunteers about the heart of Help-Portrait and entrench the “free giving” values of our movement;
  • Inspire volunteers to multiply the movement and to take Help-Portrait into their local communities; and
  • Equip volunteers to take more and better portraits, faster!

So what else is new this year?

  • “Chapters” for other cities: where we have attracted volunteers and there isn’t a Help-Portrait group. We offer a community to belong to, arrange and schedule events in their area, provide free training, provide online help and upload facilities for their images and we get their portraits printed. We deal with all the “stuff,” including the cost of the prints, and all they have to do is shoot portraits. Our aim is to multiply the Help-Portrait movement by enabling these chapters to develop into their own independent groups.
  • Framed Online: offers free online digital portraits for generous hearts – those that support the Free Portraits programme. Our volunteers “frame” donors and we give them a digital portrait. We also plan to extend this to include offering free online portraits in malls and centres as a way to promote and spread public awareness about Help-Portrait.
  • WizKidz: is all about sharing the joy of photography with a child from an under-privileged background. A volunteer pairs with a child for a morning in a centre or facility of interest or education, and provides the child with the use of a point-and-shoot camera so that the child may also take pictures on the day. The Wiz mentors the Kid for the day and uses photography to connect and show love. A digital collection of the images provide a memory for the child to keep of that day.

So, is that it?

“Yes” on the surface and for portrait goals and new initiatives.

“No” in terms of what lies under the skin! Although not new, our focus, planning, organisation and communication have really honed in on enhancing volunteer experiences. This we believe is key to future growth and to the multiplication of the Help-Portrait movement.

It’s becoming more about leveraging volunteer input, skills and relationships, and also about partnering with others in giving joy though photography. For example we:

  • reach into pre-schools in the squatter camps and informal settlements to offer free portraits through a national organisation involved in resourcing and developing these schools;
  • engage the camera clubs and groups and share our plans with their organisers so that they can plan their activities while being aware of what we’re up to;
  • motivate the potential benefits of our activities to suppliers and when requesting their support, choose resources and materials over money – afterall, it’s only printed portraits we need.

Our closing event on Help-Portrait day, Saturday 8 December 2012

We hope to end our 14-week season of Free Portraits in a way we have not done before. Don’t be silly, we won’t be shooting film ;-) but we hope to raise the bar again.

What does the future hold?

We’re starting to attract attention and we know that may change many things. Media and publicity are curiously staring over the fence asking why and how we do this. But we’re not paying too much attention and we’re sticking to our knitting. Why? Because we believe that if we do what we do well, and we focus on growing volunteers who are deeply passionate about giving back through Help-Portrait, we will attract – not seek– the resources we need to succeed.

We’re going to stretch the boundaries and have fun experimenting with new ideas.

We’ve already had a go at some out-of-the-box stuff like 94toGram, a collection of portrait messages to celebrate the 94th birthday of Nelson Mandela. Through this, we gave people who do not often have a chance to shout-out, the opportunity to send online birthday messages to South Africa’s most loved statesman. But it has more potential than just birthday messages – our volunteers got a taste of using their cameras to give others a voice and a platform to speak to the world!

Will we find new ways to give? Yes, we always do. Will we increase our portrait goal? Yes, but only through the Chapters we hope to form into independent groups.

If there is any certainty, then it is that we will continue to try to multiply the Help-Portrait movement locally, nationally and across our borders. We will strive to find new ways to use photography to benefit people in needy communities and we will have an absolutely awesome time along the way because we love people and we love giving back!