Sharing smiles


POSTED: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's hard to imagine having no family photos. But that was Roberta Taei's situation before last weekend's Help-Portrait Hawaii event at Ward Warehouse.

“;It was a blessing for us,”; she said. “;All of our photos were lost during a move.”;

Taei, her husband and six children, were among hundreds of families who participated in the worldwide effort involving photographers from multiple communities, who used their time, equipment and expertise to give back to those less fortunate this holiday season.

“;It's like a new beginning for us,”; Taei said. “;I went down the wrong path, was doing drugs. My marriage and family was torn apart by crystal meth. I've been clean and sober for three years now.”;

Taei's oldest daughter recently enlisted in the military and appreciates having a family photo while she's away for the holidays.

Tina Mueller, a volunteer for Help-Portrait Hawaii, said she heard many heart-warming stories of families putting their lives back together, families who had never posed for a portrait, and many words of thanks from those who would not have otherwise been able to pay for a family portrait.

“;It was pure joy ... just seeing their faces,”; said Mueller, who said she was brought to tears several times throughout the day.

“;Some people came with their dogs. For some of these people, dogs are like their kids,”; she said. A dog named Hokulani, dressed in a University of Hawaii cheerleader outfit, stole the show, according to Mueller. “;She was definitely meant to be a doggie model.”;

In spite of all the color associated with the day, Mueller was most impressed by the volunteer effort. “;This program brought more than 40 volunteers together. Some of us had loose connections, but most of us barely knew each other.”;

Local chapter organizer Brady Oshiro solicited volunteer photographers through his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“;When we passed out flyers, people asked why we were doing this, what's the catch,”; he said. People found it hard to believe that they would be receiving an 8-by-10-inch portrait and a CD with all of the photos, free of charge. None of the photographs taken were to be used for personal Web sites or portfolios. And, none of the volunteers were compensated.

“;Everyone involved gained something from the experience. Hobbyist photographers even learned more skills from the professionals.”;

In fact, there were “;lots of weird connections”; going on, Oshiro said. For instance, he saw two girls waiting in line. “;After they got their photos, they were giving each other a high five. The families ended up leaving together. The girls may be BFFs (best friends forever) now.”;

The project was founded by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, who has traveled to six continents photographing such celebrities as Sting, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears and Carrie Underwood. He's also worked with ABC, E!, Fox, A&E, FX and The Style Network. The YouTube video he created to get photographers around the globe interested in the project caught Oshiro's attention, as it did for more than 6,000 volunteers in almost 60 countries.

“;The same thing was happening at the same time, no matter where they are,”; Oshiro said. “;You take a picture, you hand it out. No strings attached.”;