Montana State University

Picture this: MSU student photo outreach project brings holiday to all

December 19, 2012 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

James Homme, a junior majoring in photography from Palmer, Alaska, shoots a portrait of the Holzer family during the annual MSU Community Portrait Day at the School of Film and Photography in Bozeman. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a free holiday program offered by Montana State University photography students recently spoke volumes.

The students in an advanced lighting class taught by Alexis Pike, MSU professor of photography, professionally photographed 43 families who might not otherwise been able to afford the studio sessions during the third annual MSU Portrait Day held in early December.

Portrait Day is offered once each year, providing free professional-quality photographs to families who are referred to the project by several organizations in the Gallatin Valley. In addition to providing a professional studio image, the students also fundraise to provide toys that are given to the children photographed during the day as well as refreshments for the families. F-11 Photographic Supply of Bozeman prints the photographs free of charge.

"This is great," said Renae Mattimoe, the mother of seven who sewed a variety of green snowflake accessories for all of her children to coordinate their holiday photo. It was the second year that the Mattimoe family, the largest group photographed this year, has participated in Portrait Day. "These kids do a great job."

The popular session is one that Pike brought to MSU from her former position in Oregon. When she came to MSU, she thought the idea would bring service learning into the photography curriculum, and she knew that there were families who would welcome a free professional quality photo to send to friends and relatives during the holidays.

"Times being what they are, I knew that professional family portraits might be considered more of a luxury than a need. With the skills of our students and the facilities we have at hand, the project seemed only natural."

Pike said the day is a win-win for all involved. Not only do the families receive a CD of their images and a coupon for a free 5-by-7 print donated by F-11 to use in holiday cards and giving, the students learn several important professional skills. The set up the lighting and studio for the sessions, and they also learn the people skills needed to pose and photograph the families. They are also involved in planning for the event.

"Taking the photographs is absolutely the easiest part of the day," said Brooke Bohus, a junior photography major from Pocatello, Idaho. "We've actually been talking about this day since the beginning of the semester,"

Pike said in all, the students must function in a variety of roles including greeters, digital editors, photographers, photo assistants, lighting technicians and child wranglers.

"There were moments when the event could have easily fallen apart, but the students worked through numerous issues and demonstrated excellent problem-solving skills in a cooperative manner," Pike said. "They took the time to work with each family, patiently managing problems that came up, and excelled to a level of professionalism that was demonstrated through the day."

Pike said that the first year of the holiday project, the students pitched in with their own money to buy toys for the children. Last year, Pike was able to buy toys and some food with money donated by sponsors. This year, the students raised $350 from sponsor donations and selling T-shirts, all used to buy toys that the participants receive in gift bags. The students also have toys for the children to play with while they are waiting for the portraits. The School of Film and Photography also helps out by buying something every year for the photography program that helps with the project. For example, last year the department bought vinyl backdrops and this year bought posing stools.

"Donations and support from local businesses really make this day possible," Pike said. She said that there are many wonderful aspects of the program, including that the students learn how to serve others through the experience. She particularly credited Marsha Phillips, owner of F-11, Cosmic Pizza, Town and Country Foods, SCS Wraps, Hands On Screenprinting, as well as a number of private donors.

"It's a valuable project, and I think the families are very happy with their portraits. When it's all over, I think the kids are exhausted but happy to have made it possible."

Alexis Pike (406) 994-6220,