How to Use Photography to Give Back

success_MMeiers

Previously published in Success Magazine by H&H Color Lab, 2020

During this very long year, one thing that has stood out to us is how amazing and kind people can be. There is nothing like a crisis to bring out the good in people. We have seen teenagers helping elderly folks with their groceries. We have seen neighbors checking on neighbors. With our Thanksgiving holiday coming up soon, and feelings of gratitude, we thought it would be the perfect time to highlight this article from Matt Meiers. Originally published earlier this year in our Success Magazine, Matt shares the story about his organization, “So Many Angels.” We hope it inspires you and sparks some ideas on ways that you can give back to your community!


An Idea

A few years ago, I was photographing a fundraising event for Make-A-Wish in Delaware. The featured speaker was a woman in her 30s who’d had her wish granted when she was 14. She grew up in Miami Beach, Florida, and her wish was to go snow skiing. She’d never felt snow, never seen it in person, but that was her wish.

When her wish was granted, she and her family stayed in a cabin halfway down the mountain, and they’d ski out in the morning and ski in at night. What I remember most about her speech was her saying, “For that week, I wasn’t sick.” She was so distracted by doing something fun that she didn’t have time to think about the battle with her health. About that same time, I saw a photo a friend of mine had posted on Facebook. His son was dressed up as a superhero, doing superhero things. His son wasn’t battling an illness, it was just a really cool photo he’d edited, but it made me wonder: What if we could do something like that for kids battling cancer? What if we could, for lack of a better term, “distract them” for 15-20 minutes during a cool photo session? What if the parents were also distracted, and were able to just watch their kid be a kid for a change, instead of their child battling a terrible disease? This is how the idea for So Many Angels came about.

So Many Angels photographs children with cancer and transforms them into whatever they want to be. We then gift the family a canvas print of their edited photo, which arrives within a couple of weeks. We do this at no cost to the families. Our editors try to make each edit look like a movie poster. Each canvas print is a work of art. We photograph the kids against a simple green screen backdrop, so what the families see during the photo session isn’t really anything like what they will actually in the canvas print. While the end product might be the wall print, we want the entire experience to memorable. We want So Many Angels events to be so exciting, such an experience that maybe, just maybe, the families might forget that they will soon be receiving a delivery that contains a priceless memory of their photo session.

Events and How They Work

When I started telling people about my idea for So Many Angels, my friend Dan told me that he knew that I wanted to photograph every kid tomorrow, but if I did things the wrong way, we wouldn’t succeed in building the proper process. I believe we are well on our way to putting the correct process in place.

The simple explanation is that we will show up, take photos, have fun, make memories, and impact lives. About two weeks after the event, the families will receive their canvas print.

We will be partnering with non-profits who are already in the communities we are looking to serve. They already know and have relationships with the families we are looking to serve. We plan on holding events in cities across the U.S. once a quarter. We will set up a date, coordinate with the local charities, and schedule the kids to come in for their photo sessions. The volunteers and photographers will treat these kids like the rock stars, superheroes and princesses that they are. Sessions in the past have lasted anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes, and we anticipate future sessions to be in that same range. Something I’ve seen at events in the past is that the kids want to come early or stay later than their scheduled session, just to see and hang out with their friends, who they may not have seen in a while—friends who know exactly what each other is going through. One of my favorite things to do is just watch these interactions. Just watching the kids be kids, and the parents? Oh, yeah—they have a blast as well! It’s difficult to put into words, but I swear I can look at them sometimes and just watch them breathe in a way they haven’t for what has to have been far too long.

The Kids

I’m not even sure where to start with these kiddos. To say they inspire me isn’t giving them enough credit. These kids make me want to be a better person. They make me want to do more. They may never know how much they have changed my life, and how that pushes me to want others to feel what I feel while giving back. When you read things that parents post on social media, like “Jocelyn informed me on the way home that today was the bestest day ever!” or “When I got home Kyle was just sitting admiring his picture … He brought it up to his room and placed it by his bed so it’s the first thing he sees when he gets up! He told me he is contemplating the best place to hang it in his room … He says he wants it to inspire him every day to do the right thing and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves!”—when you read those, how can you not want to be involved in something that inspires children like this? 

We want these prints to be the last thing these kids see before they fall asleep, and the first thing they see when they wake up. Will these kids grow up to be superheroes, princesses or professional athletes? Time will tell! But maybe some of them will remember what fun they had during their photo session and how we maybe triggered something inside that gave them a little hope, something that helped them get through a really crappy day. Maybe they’ll look back in 8 or 10 years; maybe they’ll put on a costume and go visit a new generation kids who are going through something like what they went though. It’s always good to know someone who’s traveled down the road you’re traveling, especially when the road you’re on can be so scary.

While our primary mission is to give the children we photograph a great experience along with an incredible work of art, we are also trying to bring attention to the fact that only about 4 percent of federal government cancer research funding goes to study pediatric cancer. We need this to change. 

What So Many Angels Is Looking For

We are looking for general volunteers, photographers, and editors. 

Photographers, we need you one day every few months. You need to be proficient with studio lighting. 

Editors are needed on an ongoing basis. You should be great at composites, and adhere to our two-day turnaround time. 

General volunteers, we’ll need you one day every few months—a select few will be asked to do more, and only if they are willing! 

All volunteers should be great human beings.

To find out more, please visit our website at somanyangels.org. There is an application fee, part of which will go to cover background checks for those volunteers who will be working directly with the kids.

About the author: Matt Meiers

Matt Meiers is a bodyscape and portrait artist based in Pittsburgh, PA who believes that the art of creating amazing images starts with the experience. The experience he creates has carried over into So Many Angels, a non-profit he founded in 2017 whose mission is to empower and inspire child warriors battling cancer.

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