A professional portrait is not always a luxury that individuals or families can afford, but a program that began in Nashville and has made its way to Chautauqua County is giving people the chance to have one done for free.
On Sunday, the Southwestern High School photography club will be co-hosting its second Help-Portrait Chautauqua at the Resource Center administration building on Dunham Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. On that day, five professional portrait photographers will be on hand to shoot individual and family portraits, for free. The Southwestern photo club members will be printing the photos on site so that each person or family walks out the door that day with a printed photograph.
Last year the club photographed more than 150 families and individuals and handed out more than 500 prints, most of them framed. For several of the guests it was their first-ever professional portrait.
Help-Portrait, which was founded by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart in 2009, was started with the idea that it could find people in need, and by giving them a portrait, also give them a sense of value and worth. To date, the organization has provided almost 300,000 portraits for individuals and families across the nation.
"That's actually the subtext of our event," said Mark Kirsch, photography club advisor and Help-Portrait Chautauqua organizer and photographer. "Although the ideal still holds, we are opening our doors to anyone who would like a portrait made. We ask no questions, there is no 'means testing.' It's a purely community event. But we are dedicated to providing portraits for those who either wouldn't otherwise be able to afford or ever think of having a portrait made."
According to Kirsch, the event was brought to his attention by a former student at Southwestern High School.
"It has always been part of our photography club charter that our skills and efforts should be focused on community service," said Kirsch. "This year the club has about a dozen members, and we will be receiving assistance from the Lakewood Baptist Church, who will help us with concierge service."
There will be five studios set up at the event, with Rob Sigler and Dana Nordlund representing the local photographic community and two photographers from Buffalo offering their services as well. John Gallagher from Erie will be providing music for the event and Krystale Niedert and Amy Darling will be taking care of hair and make-up needs.
More than 150 individuals and families were photographed last year at the first Help-Portrait Chautauqua, and Kirsch says that he hopes for even more this year.
Help-Portrait Chautauqua is currently in need of basic donations, including funds to cover the cost of items such as printer ink, which will cost roughly $500 for the event. The group is also seeking donations of as many inexpensive 5-by-7 and 8-by-10 frames as possible, but any donation, from cash to frames to bottled water, would always be welcome.
Help-Portrait Chautauqua is also looking for volunteers to assist with escorting guests from the makeup room to the studios and finishing area.
"Last year's event was full of noise and music and laughter, and this year will be as well," said Kirsch.
For more information about the mission of Help-Portrait, visit help-portrait.com.