Kevin Chelton remembers flipping through old photos from his childhood with his kids at their grandparents’ house, laughing at the outdated 70s fashions.
The Warner Robins photographer wants to provide that same living history to families who can’t afford to hire a photographer for a professional photo shoot.
That’s why he created SMILE Middle Georgia, a nonprofit organization that recruits volunteer photographers to take family portraits, free of charge.
“It’s important to have that history for your family,” Chelton said. “I’m sure many people can think back when they were growing up as kids, like, in my age group, probably 10 years younger, they’re going to remember going to their grandparents’ house, you know, the pictures on the wall of the cousins, nephews and other people they knew in their family, up on the walls, in boxes.”
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But few families have physical copies of their photos anymore, Chelton said. Now, he said, everyone’s pictures live in “the cloud” rather than in albums or frames above the fireplace.
“We’re bringing back the relic of that family print to actually hang up on the wall, and really promoting that and allowing those families to have that family print, so they don’t have to depend on their digital devices,” Chelton said.
Chelton hosted his first event Thursday night at C.B. Watson Primary School in Warner Robins, where he and a team of photographers shot about 50 portraits of students’ families.
The Pleasant Hill branch of Southside Baptist Church sponsored the event, and Houston County schools employees connected Chelton with students and staff to help him bring his idea to fruition.
Chelton recruited students from the culinary arts program at Houston County Career Academy to bake homemade chocolate chip cookies for the guests. Warner Robins High School’s Future Business Leaders of America helped with publicity and registration at the event and will sort through and mail the printed portraits to the families.
“It’s real important that children learn to give back to their community,” said Stephanie Windon, adviser of the Future Business Leaders of America.
When Shaundra Milner found out Smile Middle Georgia would be holding a family picture night at her daughter’s school, she knew she couldn’t miss it.
Milner never takes professional family portraits with her two kids. It’s too expensive, she said.
“Free of cost? Hey, you can’t beat that,” Milner said. “And it’s gearing up close to the holidays, so that’s a plus all around.”
Milner doesn’t have many pictures from her childhood. Now that she has her own kids, Milner tries to document their lives every chance she gets.
Milner photographs her children nearly every day on her phone, but there’s something special about getting the family together for a formal photo shoot. She’s excited to send copies to all of her relatives.
“You’ve got to cherish those moments while you can,” Milner said.
Chelton plans to host two or three events in Bibb and Houston counties throughout the year. He hopes his portraits will transport families back in time, years after they posed together in front of the camera.
“Ten years down the road they can look in a shoe box, or whatever, take it off the wall,” Chelton said. “They can grab out the family picture and say, ‘Hey, I remember taking that.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/smax1996 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.