help portrait.

I didn't realize when I was a kid, that when you got older Christmas wouldn't feel the same anymore. Christmas was my favorite time of year growing up. Not really Christmas day, but the month leading up to it. My mom was always amazing at exposing me and my sisters to this wholesome, real, magical side of life, and she fell nothing short of that during the holidays. We made entire gingerbread houses from scratch and it never failed that we'd spend an entire day each year mixing, baking, and decorating cookies- gingerbread, sugar, and russian tea cakes. The entire kitchen table (the one i can't bare to let go of to this day) was our decorating station; covered in colored sugar, flour, cookie cutters, icing, candy, and sprinkles. Decorating the tree was my favorite though, and sitting in the tree-lit living room that night with my mom and sisters was even better.  Our home was always small, but it felt like a "home" you know? And I was the one in the family that collected Christmas music. I'd start listening to it after Halloween or my birthday. I had any kind you could think of too.

Now days things are different. My album of Christmas music has been in storage for a few years. I can't listen to it. We don't live in that cozy little home anymore, and our family kind of fell apart, for various reasons. For a year or two I resisted holidays feeling unlike the holidays and would do everything I could to make it feel the same, even if it was just me and my mom. I think she sensed my hurt and played along, still filling me a stocking (the best part of Christmas gifts!) and decorating a tree with me. I was 20 and wanted what I had when I was 4, 10, 13, even 18...  I finally quite trying to force a holiday feeling, and it was around that time that I had sort of an epiphany.  I used to blame the holidays losing their magic on my family not being together, instead of realizing that I was also just getting older. I'm sure it's not this way for everyone, but it was like this huge secret no one told me. As if grown ups want you to figure out on your own that when you get older, the magic of Christmas isn't necessarily in the sprinkles, tree lights, or Perry Como. I still want what I had growing up, but getting what you want isn't important, especially at Christmas. It's about giving. Selfless, wholehearted, giving.

I started spending my Christmas day volunteering for our town's holiday dinner, providing meals for thousands of people every year. Then the next year I helped fill boxes for families in need for a local organization called the Toy Shop, a year round project. And this year, I was proud to be a part of a world wide first ever event called Help Portrait, where thousands of photographer all over the world got together on one day (December 12th) to make portraits for the less fortunate, families with medical conditions, people that lost their homes, etc. Our group was in Oklahoma City and we photographed families and single men at the City Rescue Mission. It was a great learning experience for me more than anything because I hadn't ever done such before, but it was also amazing to watch it come together, and to spend a day with photographers like me, that love the art of photography, but also have a heart for letting this gift they have be shared selflessly with others.

The day of help portrait I was standing back watching the other photographers interact with the families being photographed, and realized I had come full circle. Taking pictures for this reason was why I chose to be a photographer 5 years ago. It took me a long time to make it a reality, and there's SO many more ways I want to give with it, but it felt damn good to at least have a small toe dipped in a very big pond, an make a ripple.

The day was good, despite the fact that I started it out waking up at 6am and dropping my camera bag trying to get out the door. I nearly cried when I got to Oklahoma City and my shutter wasn't firing properly. (It seems to be fine now...thank goodness!) And I was nervous, to photograph these families. As many of you know I'm a natural light photographer, so I had to find areas within the building that weren't off limits that had enough light and a decent backdrop. It was a little cold and windy to go outside, so I fought with my distant friend, the external flash, and successfully made a few beautiful portraits for a few beautiful families. Walgreens donated free printing to us, and the prints were delivered to the people this past Saturday. Unfortunately I wasn't there to see their faces, but I can only imagine their excitement in getting, for many, their first family photo.

This post was made by request from a friend that wanted to hear a little more about my day. In no means was it supposed to bring you down, or make you think highly of me because of what I've chosen to do with my Christmas. I only ask that you find a way to find joy this holiday season, whether that's teaching your kids how to decorate a gingerbread house, or having a cozy dinner with your best friends. I was taught years ago to take my favorite things and share them. I hope you all find a way to do the same, and have a very happy Christmas. :- )

here's our group on Saturday December 12th

and here's an awesome video shot during the day by Travis Marak...

Peace, happiness, and lots of good food and wine to you all!


  1. i find it really amazing that you can see everyones face in that pic. not a single camera shy photographer tried to hide...:)

  2. Nice blog entry Hailey...I am trying so hard to be the mom to my youngest this Christmas - she is your age - and she still wants the stockings! I understand that but maybe I should turn her on to your blog...she is a caretaker just like you, but hasn't turned that corner that you did yet. I love you! And I hope that your holidays are filled with joy and happiness behind your lens.

  3. My gosh, Hailey; I know exactly how you feel about losing the magic of Christmas. This year, I've tried so hard to recreate for Jacob everything that my parents did for me and my brother at the holidays--music, baking (not quite so much of that!) christmas lights, decorating the house, all that. And for some reason, this year it's just been a lot harder (not seeing everyone because the family is so far spread out now). But honestly, you are totally right. The one thing that never changes about Christmas is the giving. This Help Portrait thing is so amazing. I'm so glad you had the opportunity to do this; it just looks so incredible to see people's lives being changed just because of a picture. It's a really beautiful thing. Merry Christmas! :)

  4. I guess we were all super stoked to be there Chad, no reason to hide!
    And Mindy I am so glad you can relate from the parent's perspective, it's a tough spot for us young ones to be in I think...
    Callie, seeing your efforts this year remind me of mine the last couple of years. I was determined to bake the same cookies, decorate with the same ornaments we'd had since i was born, etc. It was exhausting, especially after the results still didn't give way to that same feeling of magic. I think that's the joy in getting married and starting a family though- you get to create a new Christmas with each other. I can't wait to give my kids the Christmas my mom gave me. Merry Christmas!

  5. Hailey,
    you are beautifull inside and out.
    Love you & have a very Merry Christmas.

  6. Hailey,
    Speaking from an age seriously ahead of you, keeping the Christmas spirit is oddly difficult. You'd think with all the "cheer" going on it would be easy to think Christmas but you do find that activities start crowding out thinking, and the next thing you know you're griping about Christmas being such a chore, and you're on the road to Scrooge-dom.

    For many years the act of watching the movie White Christmas was enough to get me in the mood - sort of a seasonal habit for my wife and me. Then getting ready with the church choir for the holiday music (back when church's had choirs). Then seeing all the lights starting to pop up around the neighborhoods would get me excited.

    I think you build your own traditions, keep them close to your heart and then use them to get the Christmas spirit going. We don't have kids, so we're separate from most of the world this time of year, but that's not an excuse - rather an opportunity to see the season in a different way.

    The photo shoot you describe is a great idea - a group in Omaha did it and I want to be a part of it in 2010.

    Of course, you might be suffering from the time distortion several of us have as a result of being in school. I'm surprised every day that it's Christmas - I'm still looking forward to Halloween....