ONE by ONE Community Portrait

Out of the more than 10,000 portraits I’ve made at my events, this one is the standout.

Greensboro History Museum, Fourth of July celebration. Mom brings her 5 kids. When she sees their photo on the monitor she starts crying. She says she hasn’t had a photo of them together since they were little, and now she’s so happy that she has this memory of them.

Mom starting to cry upon seeing all her kids in one portrait.

I can do 500-600 photos in a 3 day event, and although each one of them gives me a smile as I see people’s personalities emerge, occasionally something like this will happen and I am reminded of the power of a portrait. Sure, it’s a souvenir of the event, but it’s loaded with so many other memories. I have the ability to quickly read the people and guide them to reveal their feelings for each other. At a different event, after I captured a family of five in one shot the mom said that picture depicted them better than when they spent two hours in a portrait studio.

When I say I can capture 600-800 people in a 3-day event I’m not saying I take their “pictures” (as in a driver’s license “picture”). These are warm, incisive depictions of their lives at this moment, at your event. THAT’S what makes the prints that they take home with them a treasure, and their connection to your event memorable.

In 3 days, 1246 people wanted to show me their history.

The director of the Putnam Museum, Kim Findlay, met me at the American Alliance of Museums convention, and knew this would be an engaging experience for her guests, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the museum. She added he own twist, asking people to bring object of “historical significance” to them, to include in their photo. And, wow, did the people respond to that request. Old signs from past family businesses, tools of their trades, pictures and artwork, hobbies, past and present. When given the chance people wanted to show what they were about, and what made them unique.

A sampling of the images created for the event.

A sampling of the images created for the event.

Two of my favorites

Two of my favorites: L. Susan Mc Peters brought a photo of her in the crib when she was brought home from the hospital as a baby. There was a stuffed animal next to her in the photo. She brought that actual stuffed animal that she had kept over all her life. R. John C. Anderson brought the newspaper clipping about him swimming the Mississippi, handcuffed! He had the original handcuffs also.


She did extensive publicity on local TV and radio, and in the local newspapers. It obviously captivated people’s imagination because at the end of the 3 day event a total of 1246 people had been photographed!

At the end of 3 days, 1246 people were photographed.

Me photographing in the upper right.


The original space allotted to display people’s photos was filled by the second day, so new display space was added on the mezzanine.

The display had to expand into the mezzanine.



As with all my ONE by ONE Community Portraits the “community portrait wall” proved to be a captivating display for visitors.  

People captivate by the community portrait wall

“The images are still up on our walls two years later. They are so popular that we can’t take them down!”

-Christina Kastell
Curator of History and Anthropology
Putnam Museum and Science Center



After the event the museum used to images to announce to the world their anniversary, and the unique close connection to their guests.

Images displayed outside the museum.


See more about this, and other ONE by ONE Community Portrait experiences at the dedicate website here.

Museum uses photos of over 300 of their guests, created during my ONE by ONE Community Portrait event, to populate an entire branding campaign.

On the 3rd of July I got a call from Mary Beth Smith, Director of Marketing for the Oakland Museum of California. They were throwing a museum wide party to kick off their 50th anniversary, and she wanted me to capture as many portraits of their guests as possible, for use in the accompanying branding campaign. 

Only catch was, the event was NINE DAYS AWAY! No problem. Loaded up all the gear and got on a plane to Oakland a week later!

Big event was setting for my Community Portrait

Big event was setting for my Community Portrait

Working with their design agency, Image Design Works, I tried to explain what they’d get, saying I would provide them “over 300 photos” to use for their branding campaign. Their creative director replied, “Our photographers always give us 300 or more photos.” “No,” I corrected her, “we were going to give her over 300 photos of 300 DIFFERENT PEOPLE!!!’

Later, during the actual photographing she came to me and apologized, and said she had never seen a photographer capture so many great photos of people so quickly.

Photographing over 300 guests in one evening

Photographing over 300 guests in one evening

I shot the photos in color, for their branding campaign, but delivered black and white prints to the subjects, and for the wall.

Photographed both in color and black & white

Photographed both in color and black & white

I came back two months later to do a follow-up Community Portrait and I was amazed by how far reaching the branding campaign was. Street banners, subway posters, website, video, a picture filled brochure. The images seemed to be everywhere, which provided me with quite a fulfilling thrill.



Here was and organization who found use for the immediate community building results of the photos and the “wall,” but extended their value by asking the subjects if the museum could use their photos for the branding campaign. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed, so the museum ended up with this extensive library of photos that underscored the museum’s mission of being “the museum of the people.” 

Inventing a new way to use photography that utilized my unique ability

A conversation with Kimberly Young about a grant that the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, in Kansas City, received led me to proposing a concept to them.

Photographer Rankin, in London, had just done “1000 Britons” where he took everyday Londoners and made them into fashion models. I wanted to do lots and lots of people like that, but I wanted to capture them just the way they were.

When I suggested this to the museum they wholeheartedly got behind the idea. And so “500 Portraits in 5 Days” was born.

I contacted an old friend, Wilbur Montgomery,  a photographer himself in Indianapolis, and enlisted him to be my technical director. My idea was to take someone’s portrait and almost immediately give them a print. Photo printers were too slow, but Wilbur reminded me of our experiences with office machines, and we realized we could use a color copier for the 8 1/2 x 11 prints. A print in 15 seconds, instead of the 3 minutes an ink jet printer would take.

Signing up at the Nelson

Signing up at the Nelson

I also wanted to display a copy of each print, so I had the museum construct a display wall made of 4×8 sheets of foam-core. It would take 6-4×8 panels, using both sides, to hold the anticipated 500 prints.

Building the wall at the Nelson

Building the wall at the Nelson

We started on a Wednesday, then on Thursday Kansas City experienced a city-shut down blizzard for two day. I had no idea if people would turn out Saturday and Sunday, but the event had acquired quite a buzz, and by the end of Sunday I had photographed 816 people!

Photographing at the Nelson

Photographing at the Nelson

64 of the 816 Nelson portraits

64 of the 816 Nelson portraits

All this had been created in my mind, so I didn’t know if any of it would work. Turns out I discovered that I had an ability to very quickly size up a subject and direct them to an interesting pose. In fact, 80% of the photos I created IN ONE SHOT! The people loved them. And even more…they loved the wall. Seeing themselves, their friends on the wall proved to be the most popular aspect of the whole event.

How did it change  my life?

I created a book about the event, and when I started sending it around I received inquiries from other museums to do similar events with them. I will write about this in coming posts, including the one where I photographed 1246 people over 3 days!

A book, and the start of a new chapter

A book, and the start of a new chapter

How other organizations have funded their community portraits

Is funding holding you up?
If so, here’s 4 ways museums funded their event.

An individual donor
The Indiana Historical Society turned to one of their significant door couple, Dorit and Gerald Paul. The Pauls funded a ONE by ONE Community Portrait at the Indiana Historical Society for THREE YEARS RUNNING! They did this OUTSIDE of their usual giving because they saw this event as a way to help the museum increase attendance by broadening their audience.

“What stands out in the #300in3 collection is the variety of the audience. IHS has never seen such audience diversity particularly in the age and ethnicity categories. It gave us exposure to people who weren’t familiar with who IHS is, what we do, or why it is relevant to them.”

Kyle McKoy
Vice-President of Education and Exhibitions
Indiana Historical Society

#300 in 3

Several sponsors
The Greensboro History Museum timed their ONE by ONE Community Portrait to coincide with the city of Greensboro’s “Fun Fourth” celebration. Being part of the city’s celebration gave them additional leverage with sponsors, who knew there was a guaranteed audience. The museum prominently displayed the sponsors names at the event, and in all promotional materials.

“The portraits are up and they are mighty fine individually, and spectacular as one great big community portrait. We had great media coverage and impacted the city in a way that shows we are all about making connections and engaging our community. People laughed, they cried (literally —with joy at finally having a family portrait), came together as families and joined together as new friends while they waited.”

Carol Ghiorsi Hart
Museum Director
Greensboro History Museum

Share the budget with another department
The Oakland Museum of California was about to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Coinciding with that celebration was a new branding campaign which would feature the museum’s guests, and all their diversity. Director of Marketing and Audience Engagement Mary Beth Smith had us work with their branding agency, Image Design Works, to supply them with images to use in their campaign, which would include street banners, subway posters, newspaper and magazine ads as well as a widely distributed brochure.

Thank you for your extraordinary work. The campaign looks beautiful and has really helped us move the dial on some of our key marketing objectives.

Mary Beth Smith
Director of Marketing and Audience Engagement
Oakland Museum of California

Do it in support of your people
Holly Swangstu, then the Director of the Art Institute at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum wanted to celebrate not only the entire staff of the museum, but also their more than 600 volunteers. Such was the excitement and appreciation of all at the museum that we did it for three years. Not only were people excited to get their portraits, but they appreciated becoming part of the “Community Portrait” wall, where their photo could end up next to the CEO of the museum.

“In the 25 years that I have worked here I have never felt so appreciated. Thank you for our portraits.”
Mary Wren
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Some things we want to try
People have talked about getting a sponsor for the ONE bu ONE Community Portrait experience. No, we haven’t landed FedEx (yet)! But we’re open to companies sponsoring the experience. We’ll put their names up on the “portable location studio” as well as the “community portrait wall.”

Another option is the folder everyone gets to safeguard their print. It goes home with them, so it’s a perfect place to put a sponsor’s message.

If you’d like more information fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you in a flash!

Call or text 913.940.8900 or use our contact form to tell us about your event.

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