As a child, Christmas is the season of gorging oneself silly, receiving gifts from a mythical fat man, and being merry about time off school. As one gets a little older, it is augmented to include giving as a major part of its meaning. Move further on still and it becomes a little of an institutionalised construction, with little true meaning, and mainly is used as a marketing tool and celebrated as a chore; For some of us, anyway. This year, a man named Jeremy Cowart devised a way to bring a little more of the giving spirit back into this worldwide holiday, a way to get the people of the world to unite and work together for a common good. Through his brainchild, Help-Portrait, photographers of the world united in order to share their skills not through teaching photography, but through doing what this art does best, preserving memories. Photographers were asked to give up their time, money, narcissistic fascinations, and rights to their images in order to help those less fortunate, by providing the, possibly once in a lifetime, chance to have a portrait made of themselves.
The Team – Photo by Flash Parker
Thrilled with the idea of using my camera to give someone the gift of happiness for Christmas this year, I began to assemble the final team of three like-minded gentlemen, and of course a babysitter for us. My initial efforts to get the project running were thwarted by various happenings; busy folk, miscommunications, complications, lake awakenings, we had it all. Despite even offering to eat at a Belgian waffle place here in Seoul for our first meeting, and just didn’t eventuate. However, a little down the track and we managed to assemble our team in under a week and get the project on the road for two weeks later. We were a team of one Australian (myself), one American (Aaron Brown), a Canadian (Flash Parker), a New Zealander (Aaron Raisey), and of course, our babysitter, Jeehe. We came together through the Seoul Photo Club on Flickr and decided to make our Christmas in Korea fulfilling, rather than just downright freezing. To this end, I contacted an orphanage I had volunteered at a few years prior, and they were more than happy to have us come down. This is where the fun truly began.
We met one morning in a lovely little cafe off the way called “Coffee Factory” and talked for hours about everything except the task at hand. Give it to a few lads together to get bugger all done, simply because that is what they do best. We had, by the end of the discussion, however, decided that we all got on rather well, had our respective talents, and could pull off just about anything if we tried. All we needed was a monopod. The coffee was delightful.
So, the following week, a few of us made our way back to said coffee shop to discuss the project again in more detail. This time we got an equal amount discussed, and enjoyed our coffee again. It came to us that it was a case of Que Sera, Sera. We knew from our experience that we could shoot pictures; like a Japanese tourist, we figured, it was in our blood. And so we set off in our various directions, freezing, into the gradually worsening winter.
Coffee – Photo by Aaron Raisey
Various emails were exchanged that week, tossing about ideas on what equipment to bring, and if it was absolutely necessary to meet at 9AM on a Saturday morning. In the end, it was to be that time, and the gear to bring was basically everything. Only one of us was late, and as it turned out, one doesn’t really have time to play with equipment in an orphanage filled with fifty children who think that the world’s greatest games include climbing your legs, asking to be picked up, only to wallop you in the face several times, and of course, zipping and unzipping your bag to see what is inside. We were to find this out that morning.
Arriving bleary-eyed and wearied for such an early start, we made our way, only getting partially lost once, to the orphanage. We were ushered in and instantly assailed by not only the aforementioned hordes of children, but the scent of the yellow river. We completely forgot that so many young children could produce such a smell, one akin to the skin deep penetration of retirement home aromas. Our laughs were non-stop from this moment, enjoying the quirkiness of the place and the smiles of the children. We quickly formulated a plan of attack and set about acquiring coffee. Following the sense awakening from the beverage we love so much, we scouted around and found a few nooks and crannies to shoot in. All the while trying to keep ourselves and our equipment unscathed.
Light Test – Photo by Flash Parker
After a few light tests and short conversations about the order of the day with the staff at the orphanage, we were underway before we knew it. Unsure of what the others were truly doing, and only sure that one had to photograph the children posted in front of the lens, we set about creating several hundred portraits each.
At first, I found myself shooting down a long hall. To this end I used a long lens to minimise the, not yet mentioned, clutter of the place. Thankfully I have enough Korean to joke about a little with the kids and try to make them feel at home, but thanks to our babysitter, and my beloved fiancée, Jeehe, we all had a marked degree of assistance in that area. The children were scuttled about the various “stations” we had set up in the hope that amongst the four of us we might get a portrait worthy of presenting, and a few backups, just in case.
So, with a few simple poses in mind, I set about photographing each of the children sent my way individually at first, and then in small groups seated at a table. All the while smiling, joking, lying on the urine-drenched floor, wishing I’d had just a couple more hours sleep! It was not to be however, and the
relentless onslaught of smiling little faces just begged to be photographed. This was, after all, the goal of the day, to make the little critters happy and give them a fun day.
After shooting through and jumping over what seemed to be several hundred children, we broke for lunch and had a change to rejuvenate a little before getting to the group shot, oh the group shot. Shawn, with his ultra-wide 11mm was given the task of shooting this one, and I certainly did not him envy his position, nor Jeehe hers. While she barked orders at a group of 70 people he tried to make them all fit into the little courtyard of the orphanage, and to have some semblance of composition in a group so large and frantic. To top all this off it was below freezing and had just stopped snowing. But, we managed to wrap this one up before any babies died of frostbite.
What followed was a foray into the outdoors with some slightly older children. Shooting until our hands froze, we captured children on the play equipment, boxing, and even some bokehlicious frames to fuel our photographic lust.
Getting lost in translation was the next fun part… we were asked to to photos of rooms… “Why rooms?” asked we… no answer… finally it was realised that the children in the orphanage were split into their living quarters, each with a room name… a little case of ellipsis there and we were lost as to what to do. We had a classic cock-up with these shots, forgot to switch the camera back to autofocus at the last moment, and had some slightly less than sharp images in the end. Oh well, the individual ones looked great!
Finalising the day was wonderful, and we all left feeling that we’d achieved something better than your average, touched a few lives and made history with the rest of the photographic community. The memories of those smiling faces will be with us forever, and we hope this experience will last with them as well. Then, Shattered as we were from shooting thousands of frames, we naturally gravitated to the nearest watering hole and filled our heads with liquid for a time.
Following this was selection, post, cropping, compiling, printing, framing, and finally, delivery. All in all, a wonderful result!