Interview by Photographer Angela Cappetta
Help Portrait is a global event founded by Jeremy Cowart. Jeremy describes the event as “a community of photographers coming together across the world to use their photography skills to give back to their local community.” Kenneth is working with a dedicated group to give back to families that are receiving services form Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. They will come together on December 1st at Glassell Park Community and Senior Center in Glassell Park, CA to photograph families who may have never had a formal family portrait before.
Kenneth spends the rest of his year perusing a career as an editorial portrait photographer. His work has appeared in many national and regional publications.
The work shown below is work from a project of Kenneth’s called Joplin Tornado. “I was still living in Tulsa Oklahoma when the EF-5 Tornado hit Joplin Missouri. I was watching the reports of devastation on TV and I knew that I needed to make the short drive to Joplin to document the people. It wasn’t a natural leap to make a connection from Joplin to Help-Portrait for me at first. But I found these people fascinating. I want to know about them. For me it didn’t matter if their entire life was just turned upside down by a tornado or if they are getting their first real family portrait. I want to know the back story, and I hope that I can make a picture that tells that story. I’m always in search of a real moment. We see a lot of real moments during Help-Portrait. When you hand a family a print and they get a little teary because they’ve never had one before, that’s as real as it gets.”
1) Tell us about your motivation behind the Help portrait session project?
I got involved a few years ago because a friend was doing it. Then last year my wife and I had just moved to LA and I thought it would be a good way to get to know some people in the area while still doing a good deed. We made some new friends that day and got to see happy families.
2) How much time do you devote to making a Help portrait day like the one coming up in Glassel Park in the Los Angeles area?
I’m spending a lot of time in the next week to make sure we are able to pull the event off without a hitch. There are a lot of people I don’t even know who spend all year making this event happen world wide.
3) Do you collect all the Help portraits into some kind of historical archive?
A big part of Jeremy Cowart’s vision for Help-Portrait is that the images aren’t for the photographers, they are for the families. We don’t shoot them to put in our portfolios. So I guess the historical records are hanging in people’s homes around the world.
4) Why Joplin Tornado?
I just felt compelled to go and document it. I hadn’t done any work like that before so it was way outside my comfort zone. I was incredibly nervous walking up to the first house and talking with the owners. I thought I would be told to leave. But they wanted to talk about it and share the experience. The people I met were inspiring.
5) Why the profound empathy for these survivors?
Growing up in the Midwest one gets very use to seeing severe storm warnings at the bottom of the TV screen every “tornado season.” Tornadoes seem so random. I think I’ve been lucky to have avoided being directly impacted by one.
6) How can a photographer volunteer to help you with the Help portrait project?
Help-Portraits events are happening all over. Best place to start looking for one in your area is to go to help-portrait.com. LA is a launch city so we are having the event on December 1st most other events will take place on December 8th. So there is plenty of time to get involved. If there is a photographer in the LA area that’s free this Saturday (December 1st) we would love to have you come down and volunteer.
7) How can somebody buy one of your pieces?
Currently the best way for someone to buy my work is to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org