At a photographers’ conference, military families get more than a picture.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but to some it may mean even more. Through its Military Help Portrait project, the University Photographers’ Association of America is giving military families their thousand words—and a way to feel closer to distant family members.
During its June 2016 Annual Technical Symposium at Austin Peay State University, UPAA invited the military families from nearby Fort Campbell Army base to sit for a free professional portrait session and take home prints the same day.
“A picture is more than something that sits on your mantel at home,” says UPAA President Glenn Carpenter. “It’s a connection with your deployed family, so it’s got more value than just a photograph.”
The event was just as important to the volunteers who were “giving ourselves to the community and making an impact,” Carpenter says. The association set up six portrait studios and printed the photos for families. Sponsors provided the equipment, and members took the photos.
The Help Portrait movement was created by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart in 2008. UPAA adopted it at its 2014 meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, where members offered photography sessions to residents of a local women’s shelter. Carpenter remembers that the woman who ran the shelter said the photos helped give the residents their dignity back.
He says UPAA will continue hosting the Help Portrait at its meeting every other year, and the community invited to come have pictures taken will change depending on the location. “It’s more or less about finding a community that might not have access to what we do and bringing it to them,” Carpenter says.
Help Portrait “changed my view of what [a] photo means. It’s not just a product I create every day. You’re giving them something that’s real and has some value beyond the picture.”