A picture-perfect day: Pros volunteer to help create family portraits for those in needSisters Kianna and Angelina St. Germaine, 6- and 7-year-old bundles of energy with black hair and impish grins, had their hair done and their faces made up on Saturday afternoon.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Sisters Kianna and Angelina St. Germaine, 6- and 7-year-old bundles of energy with black hair and impish grins, had their hair done and their faces made up on Saturday afternoon.
Then they posed for a professionally done portrait with their grandmother, Martha Jourdain, 49, and her sister, Donna Jourdain, 59.
It’s something scores of families throughout the Northland do at this time of the year: getting a portrait done in time for Christmas. But for the Jourdain sisters, it was all new.
“I’ve never had a portrait taken before,” Martha Jourdain said Saturday, as she sat in the lobby of the old YWCA in downtown Duluth, waiting to see the framed 8-by-10-inch print of her family.
The Jourdains and St. Germaines were among more than 40 families who participated in Duluth’s first Help-Portrait event on Saturday. The event brings together hairstylists, makeup artists, photographers and other volunteers to provide portraits for people who might otherwise not be able to afford one for their family.
Kelly Foss, case manager for the American Indian Community Housing Organization, or AICHO, in Duluth, came up with the idea for free portraits about three months ago, when she asked a client in transitional housing to set aside for a moment the things she needed, and talk instead about what she wanted.
“She said something very simple,” Foss recalled. “She said: ‘All I want is a professional photograph of my daughters.’”
Foss knows some professional photographers, and she thought a day of free portraits was doable. One of the photographers told her about the international Help-Portrait organization, founded by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart. Foss linked up with Help-Portrait, which provided the framework for the Duluth event. Saturday was the day most Help-Portrait events around the world took place.
Seventeen volunteers gave their skills and their time on Saturday. They registered families, provided hairstyling and makeup, took the portraits, processed the photos, placed them in frames and provided activities for children during waits. When they left, each family would have two 8-by-10 prints, one framed.
Asked why they were giving up a Saturday, volunteers consistently said they wanted to give back to the community.
“I just think it’s really awesome to give people the opportunity to remember a time in their lives,” said Kati Reich, a professional photographer who was editing the portraits taken by her colleagues. “Everybody should have the ability to have a family portrait.”
The Jourdain sisters and their young charges arrived shortly after 1 p.m. Within a few minutes, Angelina was seated in a high chair, and covered with a black robe. Jessica Mattevi, a hairstylist who works at Vain Salon, worked first with Angelina, and then with Kianna.
“Oh, you look pretty,” Martha Jourdain told Angelina, when she displayed the results.
Other groups and individuals were at various stages in the process. One young woman showed the portrait she’d just gotten to everyone in the room. Another woman brought her dog to pose with her. Volunteer Kami Norland, who works at the National Rural Health Resource Center, told of an older gentleman earlier in the day who kept hugging the portrait of his grandchildren and himself.
After Martha Jourdain got some makeup put on, the foursome headed to the basement, where makeshift portrait studios were set up in a small gymnasium.
Dan Branovan, the photographer who took their portrait, said he joined the effort because he knows Foss.
“It just sounded like a fun time and also a good cause,” Branovan said. “There’s something special about a photo of a family.”
The longest wait was for the prints themselves, as photographers Reich, Jeremiah Brown and others labored over balky editing equipment. But by 3:30, they were looking at the finished result.
“It’s nice,” Donna Jourdain said. “It’s real nice.”
The Jourdain sisters not only have a portrait, they’ll soon have a new wall to hang it on. They’ve been homeless lately, splitting time between a motel and a cousin’s place. But within the next few days, the sisters and the granddaughters will be moving into a new apartment in the old YWCA, which now is AICHO’s Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadiziyaan building. They took time to check it out while waiting for the portrait.
Foss focused the effort on AICHO this year, but hopes to extend Duluth’s Help-Portrait event to more low-income residents next year, she said.
Even before Saturday’s work was finished, volunteer photographers were comparing notes about how to improve it next time.
“This is the first year for Duluth,” professional photographer Tori Billings said. “So we’re excited to make it even bigger and better next year.”