Saturday’s Help Portrait photo session to provide free portraits to families in need

A family has a picture taken during the 2016 Help Portrait: Lawrence holiday portrait session last December at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St. This year's event will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.

This weekend, the Lawrence Public Library will be transformed into an impromptu photo studio equipped with professional photographers, editors, makeup artists and hairstylists volunteering their time and skills to provide a simple gift that many people take for granted.

Help Portrait’s second annual Lawrence event, slated for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, is one of likely hundreds of similar photo sessions taking place that day across the globe. The international movement, launched in 2008, brings together photographers and other professionals to provide quality portraits to those who can’t afford the service, completely free of charge.

“It’s something that I feel a lot of us do take for granted,” says Jessica Janasz, a professional photographer, graphic designer and event coordinator for Help Portrait’s Lawrence chapter.

“It can be a luxury either to hire a professional photographer, which can run a hundred dollars to a few hundred dollars, or just having our smartphones every day,” she says of the modern obsession with photo-documenting our kids, our pets and virtually every second of our lives.

The notion that many in her community go years or sometimes whole lifetimes without having a family portrait taken, Janasz says, never really occurred to her until volunteering for a Help Portrait event in Manhattan a few years ago. Two weeks after the event, Janasz received a handwritten note from a little girl who had her picture taken that day.

“It was a full Christmas card explaining to me that her family hadn’t had a photo together in nine years,” Janasz remembers. “And of course I just stood there and cried.”

Hearing similar stories from families — couples who had been married for decades without having taken a picture together, or parents who hadn’t been able to afford portraits of their newborn babies — has been “overwhelming,” Janasz says.

After staging the first Help Portait event in Lawrence last year at the Carnegie Building, Janasz says she’s expecting a larger-scale event this weekend. More than two dozen volunteers will work the photo and editing stations as well as offering hair and makeup styling.

An instructor and four students from Overland Park’s Paul Mitchell cosmetology school are volunteering their skills, plus free family haircut certificates. Goodcents is donating food, and a kids’ corner will also be provided.

Between having the portrait taken, editing the picture, printing it onto photo paper and cutting out the prints, the whole process takes about 30 minutes per family, Janasz says. Help Portrait offers three portrait sizes, with each family taking home three prints total: one large 8-by-10-inch framed portrait and two smaller (5-by-7-inch and 4-by-6-inch) unframed prints.

Clients can also leave their email address with volunteers to receive prints digitally.

For Janasz, organizing Help Portrait sessions has been an empowering experience. Janasz, who graduated with a photography degree from the University of Kansas in 2012, says Help Portrait allowed her to collaborate with old friends and classmates in their shared efforts to give back to the community that has given her so much over the years.

Now based in Kansas City, Janasz hopes to someday launch a Help Portrait chapter there while passing the torch on the Lawrence project to someone else.

“It started out with something that was just kind of fun and ended up resulting in something a lot bigger,” she says.

(In a good way, of course.)

Saturday’s portrait session will be first come, first served — no need to sign up in advance. Though organizers don’t have any eligibility requirements in place, Janasz stresses the event is aimed toward helping the most in need.