PORTRAITS OF SOUTH FLORIDA

Photographers help transform people in need

 

The butterflies in my stomach woke me up earlier than usual — I always get them before a big shoot. I knew it would be a long day, but I had no clue that I was about to photograph the most meaningful and affecting portraits of the year.

Together with my husband and children, plus a few friends and several other photographers, I got to connect with more than 1,200 people in need, representing 323 diverse families who call South Florida home.

From infants to grandmas, the 6,000-plus-square-foot gym, buzzed with excitement as we began to capture thousands of smiles.

“Help-Portrait” was organized by The SoulCatchers, a group of South Florida photographers and other professionals who participate in this annual event, staged in many cities around the world. The idea behind Help-Portrait is simple: Find people in need, take their portrait, print it and give it to them. But the transformation that occurred in my mind and heart that day was far more complex and unexpected.

Although many of the families we photographed don’t have a place to call home, we didn’t talk about it. Why open the door to the stigma of being labeled “homeless”? They were simply families doing regular things, like getting dressed up for a family portrait. From the first click of my camera, I realized that the families before me could very well have been my neighbors or my friends — “they” could’ve been “us.”

As I cajoled smiles from children and nervous moms, I learned a little about their families. There was no need or reason to discuss their dire circumstances. The heavy hearts behind their smiles spoke volumes, as did the love and patience they showed for one another. After seeing a teenager acting goofy for his portrait, a disappointed 7-year-old said to me: “Aw, I wanted to take funny pictures, too!” His countenance flipped when I told him to come back; he lit up and began making funny faces, just like my son does when I point the camera toward him.

When I first heard the word “homeless,” I immediately thought of the guy at the I-95 exit holding a cardboard sign, the person with whom I avoid eye contact when I don’t have cash, or time, or the inclination to give. Eye contact is essential when photographing people. It is through the eyes that the heart’s expression is revealed. One by one, as they looked into my eyes, the men, women and children who stood before my camera that day taught me many things. The most important being that we’re exactly the same when it comes to our need to be accepted, respected and loved.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

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Tony Lesesne

    STOPPED BY COPS

    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

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Delrish Moss

    STOPPED BY COPS

    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.

  • STOPPED BY COPS

    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

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