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Family pictures for homeless, low-income at YWCA worth 1,000 words


By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Makeup artist Somica Spratley does makeup for a client.

Tylanna Lane was at the YWCA of Central Alabama in downtown Birmingham for her first family photo when she got a compliment.
“My son kept saying, ‘Mama you look so pretty,’ ‘Mama, we look so pretty.’”

Lane, 26, had her photos taken with her three children, Harmony, 7; Just’lynn, 5; and Aliriq, 3 months, as well as with her cousin’s children.

“The photo shoot was great,” Lane said. “They were so nice and patient because with a lot of kids it can be like, they’re going to look this way . . . and they’re not going to look at the camera. But they were patient.”

The YWCA hosted Help Portrait Birmingham for the fifth time to create family portraits for the homeless and working poor.

The annual photography session allows clients to receive professional makeup, family photo shoots, and editing.

Rabbi Barry Altmark edits photos and prepares to print them for the families to take with them. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)

“It builds family, character, self-respect and if nothing else, it gives joy,” said Rabbi Barry Altmark, who oversees Help Portrait Birmingham. “When they walk in, they get excited and when our makeup artists are done, they are glowing. Then photographers treat them like royalty. It brings them joy, and it’s obvious.”

Altmark, a professional photographer, said the national organization provides a service that many take for granted.

“I can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on photos, but there are people who can’t, and it’s our duty to serve them,” said Altmark. “We take for granted, our kids getting portraits every year, but there are people who can’t afford that luxury, or they are moving around a lot and don’t get photos taken.”

Butch Oglesby, a volunteer photographer, said photos hold significance.

“I always ask people, if your house is on fire, and you could only grab one thing, what would that one thing be, and people always say the family photos,” he said. “Then I ask, well what if your family never had any photos made, how much would one be worth to you?”

“I think having a photo builds that family unit. That closeness. When that kid grows up they say ‘this is what my family looked like when I was 5, 6 years old.’ It’s a sense of pride.”

Photographer Butch Oglesby takes photos of a family as part of Help Portrait Birmingham at the YWCA. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)


Gretchen Birdwell, another volunteer photographer, said she is glad to have the opportunity to show people that they are beautiful.

“We’re dedicated to making sure the people see themselves as worthy . . . seeing yourself in a photograph where you look nice is empowering,” she said.

People have used the photos to apply for jobs, she said.

Lane said her first family photo shoot was not what she expected.

“I was expecting chaos. With a lot of kids they won’t cooperate,” she said with a laugh.

And her children did great, she said.

“They paid attention and listened, they smiled big for me, which I’m happy about,” she said.

The photos will be memories for her, Lane said.

“It shows my family as one. A lot of people don’t have family portraits, I know I didn’t. I would have a school portrait every now and then, but not family portraits.”

The family appreciated the finished photos.

“I feel grateful,” Lane said. “The Y didn’t have to do this, the photographers didn’t have to do this, the makeup artists didn’t have to do this. I’m grateful that everybody did this to provide this to us.”

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