More than a photograph

With “selfie” now an entry in the dictionary and more cameras in people’s pockets than ever before, there is still value in a traditional portrait. A photograph by nature captures a fleeting moment, but for families involved in the Help Portrait project, that memory lasts all year.

Like many mothers, indeed many women in general, Lisa Murphy is behind the camera more than she is in front of it.
A single mother of three, she often hesitates to step into the frame, feeling she does not look her best or simply too busy to set up a shot and corral everyone into it. But one day a year, she gets to step in front of the camera and be part of a proper family portrait.
“They’re nicer pictures than what you can do on a phone,” she told the Times-Herald of her past experience with Help-Portrait Moose Jaw. “It’s good to have everyone in the picture, and to get to see how the kids have grown. It’s already so different from last year.”
Help-Portrait is an international initiative to help families and individuals who could not otherwise afford it, take home a traditional portrait for the holidays. It has been running for eight years in Moose Jaw and seems to be going strong.
“This is a non-essential item,” said photographer and co-organizer Andy Hamilton. “There are lots of groups dealing with getting people those essentials in the community. Things like selfies are such a fleeting image, a fleeting moment, but what we do is give families a framed photo and that’s a permanent record of this one moment in time for them.”
This year, there are 80 groups booked for the event Dec. 2 at Hillcrest Apostolic Church with more on a waiting list. When that day arrives, there will be four photographers with studio experience going at once, but also a small army of hair and make-up people on hand to help people look and feel their best. Families will be treated to a meal made from donated food, as well as have access to an assortment of items, like clothes, they can take home with them.
While that is going on, photographers and their helpers are busy behind the scenes, editing, printing, and framing the photos so participants have something to take home with them that very day.
For Hamilton, if the process itself is rewarding, the lives of those families and photographs afterwards is even more so.
He and another photographer involved recently visited the home of a former participant and saw their portrait taking pride of place in the living room. Not only are families provided with a physical copy of their photo, they are also given a usb key with the digital files on it.
“We have no idea where these images are going,” Hamilton said. “They go around the world. For me, there’s this beauty in not knowing the scale that this hits.”
Murphy said she attempted to take a cell phone picture of last year’s portrait to share with family members, but that the quality is just not the same.
“This definitely helps around Christmastime,” she said. “It’s nice to have this opportunity, because professional pictures aren’t cheap nowadays, and otherwise we wouldn’t get them done.”
More than that, it’s a day the whole family can enjoy. Her children like doing the crafts they have set up and Murphy herself gets a dose of pampering.
“For myself, I don’t really like taking pictures of myself,” she said. “There, they do your hair and make-up and make you feel like you look good. It’s just really a good experience.”