Your camera is a remarkable little device. This invention, whether we’re talking about the one in your iPhone, or the DSLR in your camera bag, occupies a particularly poignant place in our society today. The images we take with them aren’t just moments about 1/125th of a second long that are captured onto silicon or film for posterity. They are more than that.
Images are precious – every momentous, magnificent, stupid, inconsequential one of them. Whether they’re taken with a 5D Mark III or a cameraphone, whether they’re on film or silicone or daguerreotype, photographs are technically the only official record of that sliver of a second or so. What they can come to represent, however, is why they’re so important.
A single image can be the permanently captured memory of a baby’s first steps, something the parents will look at for the rest of their lives with delight and nostalgia. Or that single image might go on to embody the mood of a nation, the benchmark of an era, the symbol of a generation. It can mean something to just one person, or it can be meaningful to an entire race; either way, it is part of the official history of us as a people.
Which is why I think that as photographers, we have a duty to do more with our cameras than just drool over them, or use them to capture pretty things. Our cameras and our skills as photographers must be put to use for the greater good from time to time.
Here are some ways to do that.
169,523 portraits by over 15,000 photographers at 1560 locations in 56 countries later, Help-Portrait is one of the most famous photo-related charities around. The idea is simple. Find someone in need, take their portrait, print it, and deliver it to them.
Every December, the volunteers behind Help-Portrait open up locations all over the world and invite underprivileged people to come have their portraits taken. It’s something you wouldn’t think about every day, but how many people whose lives are all about making it to their next paycheck can afford to have a family portrait taken? Or a picture of their parents, or grandparents, or kids? How many military families, who are already underpaid, can afford professionally-taken photographs to send to their loved ones serving downrange?
Help-Portrait organizes a yearly event to provide them this simple service. For many of the subjects, this is their first real family portrait. For some, it’s an heirloom to pass down to their grandkids. For others, it’s something they can tuck inside a flak jacket before they set out on patrol.
Visit help-portrait.com to see and hear some of the stories from both participants and volunteers alike, and to learn how you can volunteer your time, experience, and camera for a great cause.
This one is hard. I have a hard time even reading about this organization and the gut-wrenching, soul-wracking work they do.
Children are supposed to bring joy into families. Sometimes, however, when that child is born without much hope of survival, that joy can turn into the deepest of sorrows.
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an organization that, in their own words, “gently provides a helping hand and a healing heart.” Their volunteer photographers sign up for a very difficult job – to go to wherever these families are and create photographs for them.
Once again, to quote the organization:
For families overcome by grief and pain, the idea of photographing their baby may not immediately occur to them. Offering gentle and beautiful photography services in a compassionate and sensitive manner is the heart of this organization. The soft, gentle heirloom photographs of these beautiful babies are an important part of the healing process. They allow families to honor and cherish their babies, and share the spirits of their lives.
This isn’t easy work. From what I understand, the children that the volunteers photograph are sometimes just moments from passing, and sometimes even moments after. I know I could not do this sort of work, but if you are moved enough that you would consider it, then please visit the organization’s website to learn more.
Shoots for a Cure offers cancer patients and survivors professional photography services. Anyone who has been diagnosed or completed treatment within the past 12 months qualifies. The goal of the charity is to document their fight with cancer, before, during, and after treatment.
There’s a wide gamut of patients with stories on Shoots for a Cure’s website. Cancer doesn’t really discriminate in terms of age, so the patients range from 3-year-old Campbell Taft and up, all the way to senior citizens in their golden years.
What is particularly inspiring are what the organization calls “Victory Sessions,” the ones where you get to see and hear about successful battles with cancer. 3-year-old Campbell Taft is in remission, by the way, after a fight against a brain tumor.
Visit shootsforacure.com to learn more and volunteer.
Hearts Apart is an organization that provides military servicemen and women with pictures of their spouses and children before they deploy. Founded in North Carolina, the organization provides these pictures on waterproof, bi-folded cards designed to fit in the pockets of military uniforms.
Hearts Apart is an ongoing charity, dedicated only to members of the military and their families. At a time when this country is still at war, regardless of your political stance, it’s hard to argue that having sturdy remembrances of their loved ones won’t make it just a little bit easier for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to endure their hardships.
Check out the Hearts Apart site for a gallery of images and to learn more about their mission and work.
Sometimes, photography can benefit others without you having to be behind the camera. 100Cameras is one such case.
This organization puts cameras into the hands of underprivileged children, letting you see slices of their world through their eyes. 100Cameras has completed three projects so far, in Cuba, South Sudan and New York City, and in each location, they’ve given cameras to kids, then made prints from the resulting images available for purchase.
The really neat thing is that 100% of the proceeds go back to the kids-centered organizations that 100Cameras partners with. The organization itself doesn’t keep any of the proceeds – it’s a 501c3 non-profit company and is funded by other donations. It’s sole purpose is to empower kids by sharing their unique perspectives through photography, then using those perspectives to help their communities.
Visit 100cameras.org to learn more about this unique organization and buy prints, cards, and tees to help them achieve their goals.
When you’re in the middle of a model shoot, or your eye is glued to your viewfinder as you take in a glorious landscape, it’s a bit hard to think outside that moment. It’s hard to imagine that photography, this thing you love, can be used to benefit others. Frankly, I think it’s a huge bonus that we can apply our passion towards helping others, and doing so should be a no-brainer for most of us.
In the past, I’ve volunteered to help take photos for a diversity fair, covered a couple of women’s development events, and volunteered my camera and my services when I was able. This year, I plan to do more. Not only does it feel like I’m making a difference, I get to do so doing the thing I love more than anything.
Karma points for an itchy shutter finger? Sign me up!
Please share your favorite Photography-related charity in the comments!