Karen Dorame,
Exec. Director, Hearts and Lens Give Back Nonprofit Organization

Tosha Gaines said, “The world is a diverse place; however, most photographers’ portfolios do not reflect that.” Tosha’s program at Imaging USA 2023 stressed stepping out of our comfort zone to bring understanding, empathy, and appreciation for diversity into our photographic scope of service. She further said, “While most photographers are competent when it comes to creating images, working with those who are differently abled (whether visible or invisible) takes a special skill.”

So true. Special Kids Photography first appeared on the scene in 2000, when the book, Photographing Children with Special Needs was published. Around that time Epson hosted Special Kids Photography of America’s pilot workshop at Epson America headquarters in Long Beach. That’s where Tim Mathiesen, a well-known PPA instructor, and all-around photographic industry leader was first introduced to the nonprofit. He took them under his wing and invited Special Kids Photography to have exhibit space across from Epson at the PPA convention in Atlantic City. That was in 2002. 

So many years ago! Over twenty years later it was time for a change. Terminology is constantly evolving. “Special” is no longer a term preferred by the disabled community. Since Special Kids Photography needed to change their name, the board of directors also felt it was time to be more inclusive and bring adults with disability, age, or illness into their purview in order to reach out to those who are under-represented by photographic studios.

The ultimate goal of Hearts and Lens remains the same—to create advocacy and awareness for the need to bring quality photographs to these often-overlooked populations. The “quality” part of this equation comes through specialized training offered by Hearts and Lens. Hearts and Lens education addresses less invasive types of lighting, unique behaviors that may be presented, and many other unique skills that help the photographer be more comfortable in photo sessions that result in the family being a lot more pleased with the results. 

The all-volunteer staff of Hearts and Lens works hard to spread the word about the importance of reaching out to the disabled, medically fragile, and elderly. It’s their labor of love. www.heartsandlens.org.