When little kids line up for school picture day, there's the typical nervousness and joking as they get ready to show off their brightest, wide-toothed smiles. Maybe they're wearing their best clothes or even sporting a new haircut.
But the children who sit in front of the camera as part of Project Picture Day are a special kind of subject. They're kids in low-income communities who get to be the focus of attention for maybe the very first time.
Jules Alonzo brainstormed with his professional photographer friend, Jen Campos, about a way they could combine a love for photography and working with children in underserved areas around the world. They came up with a concept and, in 2015, they had a trial run in Barrios Cienfuegos in the Dominican Republic, taking photos of kids at school.
"I had gone on a five-week volunteer project a few years back and still had connections there. With a little bit of outreach, we got in touch with a school director there who spoke English well and was happy to have us," Alonzo tells MNN. "It turned out to be a huge success."
Since then, the not-for-profit organization has reached 1,765 students in 14 schools in three countries, including the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Philippines.
The Project Picture Day team of four to six members goes into a school and sets up two stations with a DSLR camera, a tripod, a light stand and a flash. Campos decides where the best spots will be — whether inside or outside the classroom or school. Then the team spends two or three days photographing the students and editing and printing their photos. They also take a class photo and faculty pictures. On the final day, each student receives a 4x6 school portrait.
Reactions are priceless
"The majority of the students laugh. It's funny and maybe even slightly embarrassing seeing a photo of yourself. They love to show their peers and everyone gets a good laugh," Alonzo says.
"There's a sense of pride and the whole 'look at me!' starts to spread across the room as more students get their photos. What we didn't expect and love to see is, sometimes the students will exchange photos with their best friends. It's actually really cute. Others run to their parents to show them. Honestly, the reactions are the best part of all of this."
In addition to the glossy print, each student gets a care package including a notebook and a pencil. The group used to bring in donated supplies, Alonzo says, but they soon realized that purchasing the school supplies locally had a positive economic impact.
The students appreciate the supplies, but they are truly charmed by the photos.
"We always hope our beneficiaries see themselves in a new light. These photos are meant to serve as a reminder, a pride piece if you will, of their accomplishment," Alonzo says.
"Education, something that's considered a luxury in most underserved countries, is indeed something to feel proud of and that's something that translates beyond the students but to the parents, as well. It's really tough to put into words the vibe on distribution day, but you see it in their faces. This glow, this immediate smile that crosses their face when they see themselves in a way they've never seen before. For some, this is their first photo. For a parent, the fact that that photo is of their child going to school, I think it leaves a huge impact ... there's magic happening without a doubt."