The Power of the Picture

My first memory is of standing in the yard when I was about three years old, having my picture taken by my father. I spent hours in Dad’s basement darkroom, watching images come to life in trays of chemicals. We had slide shows in the living room every Sunday night.

I’m a photographer’s daughter, and a childhood without photographs is unthinkable to me. But there are lots of kids in the world, especially around here, who have never had their picture taken. Help-Portrait is trying to change that.

Help-Portrait recruits volunteer photographers to visit economically underprivileged communities, take pictures of kids (and adults) who live there, and then return later to deliver the prints to their subjects. For many of the recipients, this is the first photo of themselves that they’ve ever received.

Help-Portrait is a big deal in Joburg. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t participated in one of their shoots, especially considering how much I love a good photo-share. But several of my friends are Help-Portrait veterans, and last weekend I got to go with them to a photo-handout event in Kliptown.

Kliptown is the oldest and most historic section of Soweto. It’s also one of the poorest. The squatter camp we visited in Kliptown has no electricity (at least not legally) and no running water inside the houses. The streets are unpaved. There is one portable toilet for every 20 families.

A typical home in Kliptown.

This community doesn’t have much in the way of material things. But it does have the Kliptown Youth Program. KYP is where the hope is. It’s where we went to give out the portraits.

Excitement builds as volunteers lay out the photos taken of kids at the Kliptown Youth Program.

I don’t think I need to say a lot more. I’ll just show you the pictures.

Happy kids at KYP.

A boy with his portrait.

Preparing for a group photo.

Martina having a ball with the kids. We practically had to drag her away by the hair.

I’ve written many posts about photography — how it brought me to Africa and helped me learn about myself and the world around me. Now, more than ever before, I feel the power of the picture. Hopefully these kids feel it, too.

The dog did his best to entertain the kids but I think he was sad that he didn’t have his own photo. Maybe I will start a Help-Portrait for canines.

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  • Reply Debra Kolkka January 9, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    What beautiful, beautiful children! I love the tired dog.

    • Reply 2summers January 9, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      He looks tired in this pic, but in fact he was rolling around quite energetically!

    • Reply Debbie Johnson January 10, 2012 at 12:52 am

      Ha! I always zero in on the animals too!

      • Reply 2summers January 10, 2012 at 8:05 am

        Children and animals – you can’t go wrong.

  • Reply MartinaInJozi January 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    If you thought you had to drag me away this time, you should have seen last time!! We will have to do Help Portrait ourselves this year – no excuse!

  • Reply pbdweeeebie January 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you for a lovely write-up Heather. Your passion for photography and people shines through! And just for the record, participating volunteers don’t only take pics, others also participate by delivering them and sharing their story 🙂

    We look forward to having you on board for 2012!

    • Reply 2summers January 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm

      Thanks very much. I look forward to it too.

  • Reply Slowvelder January 9, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    You have given me such a great idea. I think I am going to do my own little program like this at a nearby farm compound tomorrow when I go to drop off some Christmas goodies for the children. I think they will love it!

    • Reply 2summers January 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      Awesome. The power of the picture is spreading!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 10, 2012 at 12:48 am

    What a great program, Heather. I wonder if anyone has done anything like that in Haiti. Thanks for letting us know about this.

    • Reply 2summers January 10, 2012 at 8:08 am

      Help Portrait is all over the world but it looks like there’s nothing in Haiti yet. I’m sure it would be a smashing success there.

  • Reply eremophila January 10, 2012 at 3:42 am

    That little girl in no 6 just takes the cake!
    It’s such a world away from my childhood, the youngest sister of a photographer. I grew to hate photo sessions….. which is why I still mostly position myself behind the camera and not in front. I’m sure these children won’t grow up with those hang-ups it makes me wonder, just who is under-privileged.
    What a great program for them and the volunteers!

    • Reply 2summers January 10, 2012 at 8:05 am

      Yeah, it really is a lot of fun. It’s true that photography is a novelty for these kids and therefore they have no hangups about it. It’s rare to come across a child who shies away from the camera.

  • Reply thirdeyemom January 10, 2012 at 3:46 am

    What a wonderful initiative and program for these kids! I think it gives them a sense of pride and worth that truly promotes well-being. I think it would be truly magical to take their photos. Children are so incredibly resilient and so full of hope and love no matter how hard their life may be. They still smile and bring love. Thanks for sharing and I hope you can contribute your talent to this program!

    • Reply 2summers January 10, 2012 at 8:03 am

      Definitely. The photos really do make a difference. They give people an identity.

  • Reply Monwabisi January 10, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Nice one Sister, you can see from the face of the kids that they are happy. Keep up the good work.

    • Reply 2summers January 10, 2012 at 10:19 am

      Thank you Mo. And thank you for sharing your community with us on Saturday.

  • Reply Spiral Dreamer January 10, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I wish something like this was possible in my area, but too many fears keep the parent from allowing pictures of the kids to be taken for anything else than family souvenir. This is such a great idea.
    Keeping this great work going is important.
    Thank You for sharing.

    • Reply 2summers January 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Thanks Francis. I just realized who you are. Welcome back!

    • Reply pbdweeeebie January 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Where are you based? There are Help-Portrait groups in many cities, check for your location here: or consider starting one.

      There are loads of people to give you advice and information to share with families and communities that have privacy concerns and that will help you cross that boundary.

  • Reply landofnams January 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    H, great writing and photos. The kids missed out on your photography skills last year!! I hope we get to do it together this year, lots to learn from you!

    • Reply 2summers January 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm

      I’m quite sure we will!

  • Reply Patrick Dykie February 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    You are a wonderful person as well as a great photographer. I voted for your picture on hope, because I remember my own childhood. We were poor, and didn’t have much, but as children we experienced joy, and hope, and the world as a grand adventure. Everytjing was fresh, and new and wonderful; and yes, full of hope. I think as we get older, the weight of the world takes some of our innocence, and our way of vewing the world.Take care in all you do, and keep taking photos.

    • Reply 2summers February 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks so much, Patrick. I’m glad you see the same thing I do in those children’s faces.

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