A little less than a year ago, I was riding in the car with Dan and his brother Sam. We were talking about wanting to do more with our lives than just pursue money and happiness, (which are pretty normal and perfectly fine pursuits). We wanted to serve others, but in a creative way. I mentioned that it was on my heart to photograph military homecomings for free. Sam encouraged me and said that I should do that… but I should do it on a large scale! Yes… I could photograph them, but only in a small area of the country. There are a lot of bases out there and a WHOLE lot of homecomings happening all over. Why not spread the net wide? I came up with the idea to create a network of photographers that would all photograph homecomings for free. I set out to do this… somehow.
I like the idea of simplicity and I also liked the idea of this thing being able to run itself without me having to have my hands in every single aspect of it. I didn’t want it to grow into a beast that needed constantÂ managingÂ and legal business and rules. I just wanted it simple. I wanted it to be simple for the photographers, the families, and myself. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to work, but more-so because I realized that the harder it was to use, manage, and participate in, the less likely people would be a part of it. A friend suggested having only one rule, that kept everything at one starting point. The rule I created was that all photographers must agree to donating at least 30 minutes of photography and one 8×10 print to the subjects of the Homecoming session. What they add from there is up to them. This would create a base line that would set expectations at a reasonable place. Furthermore, I decided to take myself out of the equation almost completely by simply creating a website where families can connect with photographers with no middle man, (ie: me). They simply find a photographer that they like in the area where their homecoming will happen and voila !
This is the description I gave on the website for families to better understand what it was all about:“Welcome them home is simple. It is a network of photographers who donate their time and skills to soldiers and their families as a thank you for the sacrifices that are being made for our country. Each photographer in the network has agreed to photograph your soldiers homecoming, free of charge. All you have to do is contact the photographer in the area that you live in and work with them to set up the timing for your homecoming event. Every photographer is different and what they offer you may vary from photographer to photographer. At a minimum, you will receive at least 30 minutes of photography for the moment of homecoming and one 8×10 print. Contact your specific photographer about more details since they will all be a little different.”
I learned through this process that military homecomings are no piece of cake to photograph. First of all, you are dealing with the military and the military’s schedule. Homecomings aren’t set in stone, and the time frame of when they happen can vary and change at the last minute. When you agree to photograph one of them, it’s kind of like agreeing to photograph a birth story. This is obviously very unlike weddings, which I am used to. You have to be flexible, and also understanding. You have to be available. There is also the danger of the couples not being thankful, not because they are horrible people, but more so because the value of what you are doing is sometimes lost when you are doing it for free. All of these things were brought to my attention by the photographers signing up. I felt so ridiculous, trying to set this up without ever having photographed a homecoming myself. It was really helpful to learn from these photographers to help me set my expectations for the network as well as for myself. I wanted to make sure that this project stayed fun… for everyone involved. I wanted happiness and hope to come of this. I know that it will be rewarding, no matter how much trouble it MAY be. I feel like that trouble is nothing compared to the sacrifices that were made by that soldier and that family I will one day be photographing. I hope I can always keep that in check.
I spent a good six months getting everything in order and making sure it was all presentable. I reached out to businesses and asked for help with the start up. Sam created the business cards and site badges,Heather Tindall, a photographer and designer, helped design and create the US Map on the site, Showit donated the website hosting for a yeah, Sarah made our logo, and Photojojo sponsored our first 100 photographers that signed up. I built up a photographer base through our Showiteer network, which then spread beyond that. I designed, and re-designed, and re-designed the website again and again. I created a facebook page with fans… and soon enough, Welcome Them Home was ready to launch!
Before I knew it, photographers from all over were pouring into my inbox and something big was born. I am so thankful for all the feedback, both positive and negative, that can help me keep this ship not only afloat, but also enjoyable. I am even more thankful for all the photographers who have already signed up and been a part of this early on. I see their hearts, open and willing to serve our military families.
If you are a photographer and you want to sign up, please visit the site and fill out the contact form.
If you are in the military, or know someone who is, please tell them about us. You can sign up for a homecoming shoot here.
If you just want to support us, please like us on facebook and tell others about it. You never know how far your can reach just byÂ sharing.