This weekend, I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work with a group of women from my church. Our service was to go to a local women and children's shelter and host a Valentine's brunch and party for the residents. My particular job was to take portraits of the women and their daughters for them to put into special picture frames they decorated as part of the event.
As I walked in, laden with camera equipment and wearing my heart socks (yes, I decided to keep them), I felt so conspicuous. It reminded me of an instance many years ago, when a journalism classmate of mine went to report on a soup kitchen. This particular classmate was a returning student, an "older" woman in her mid-thirties from a very wealthy background. She came to class with perfectly coiffed hair and a diamond ring the size of gumball. The day she was supposed to go to the soup kitchen, she "dressed down" — in perfectly pressed white jeans and a polo shirt. I felt like a less-posh version of that journalism classmate, as I stood in the hallway of that homeless shelter.
It turned out to be harder than expected to take photos of the shelter residents. While one or two volunteered as soon as I had my camera ready, most shied away, or said their hair was a mess, they didn't have any makeup on, or they didn't want their pictures posted on the Internet. I tried to at least get some portraits of the children, since these families may not have many to remember this stage in their lives. Sometimes, the mothers would follow when they had an opportunity to have a picture taken with their girls.
For the most part, these subjects did not smile for the camera, nor did I force them. I wanted to capture the reality of this moment in time: their suffering, their toughness, and their inner beauty. To respect the privacy and safety of the women, I won't be posting any of their pictures, but they were some of the most memorable — and beautiful — I have ever taken.