How a North Augusta Photographer Helped Launch a Nationwide Movement for Her Colleagues in Houston
Photographer Francie Stonestreet was fortunate that Hurricane Harvey didn’t do any damage to her house. Her neighborhood in Kingwood, a suburban community 28 miles northeast of the center of Houston, was hit hard by the storm and subsequent flooding of local rivers and lakes. Residents in the area are still recovering from the massive amount of destruction done by 50 inches of rain in the Houston metro area in the span of a few days.
But Stonestreet’s house was one of a few in the immediate area that were untouched. She describes it as a small island of houses on dry land. Still, an unfathomable amount of ruin was right at her doorstep. Kingwood High School was found to have $10 million worth of damage (53 Houston-area schools were damaged and 22 will be closed for months for rebuilding). A nearby bridge over Highway 59 was completely underwater. So were many of Stonestreet’s neighbors’ homes; one of them was lifted off its foundation and floated downstream.
“It’s very difficult to wrap my head around,” Stonestreet said. “We drive by house after house after house with all the downstairs furniture on the front lawn.”
Over the last week, Stonestreet has mainly focused on making sure she gives as much help to the Kingwood community as possible. One of the few breaks her family took recently was to celebrate her son’s birthday 10 days after the hurricane made landfall on Aug. 25. Since then, Stonestreet says she’s primarily been in a mindset of “How can I put my hands and my back to good work?”
But there’s another community for whom Stonestreet’s heart is heavy: her fellow photographers. She knows around 10 photographers in the Houston area whose homes and studios are flooded.
“Once stuff is filled with river water, it’s not salvageable,” Stonestreet said.
When a house suffers catastrophic water damage, the most important thing is to get all of the built-up sludge out of the house and pull up sheet rock and flooring. Not only is photography highly susceptible to damage beyond repair in that kind of situation, but it’s not a priority, even for photographers.
“Photography is a luxury,” Stonestreet said. “As small business people, we are going to, in the next couple years, struggle. People will need to spend money on their homes.”
Stonestreet, who runs her own photography company called FireHeart and specializes in wedding and portrait photography, has already had three weddings she planned to shoot during the remainder of this year get cancelled.
Ailene Harding, president of the PPA’s Guild of Houston, has seen several of the guild’s 200 members in Houston face similar struggles.
“Whether you’re a portrait photographer, commercial shooter…all of those businesses, all of those clients are going to be gone in the next year,” Harding says.
Harding lives in Baytown, Texas, a city of about 75,000 that lies 26 miles east of Houston. One of Harding’s fellow guild members lives there, too. While Harding’s family avoided catastrophe, her friend was overwhelmed by it. Her one story home was flooded with 4 feet of water and destroyed everything, including her studio and backdrops. As her community began to assess the damage, one of her neighbors was found dead.
“My heart is breaking for my fellow guild members,” Harding said. “I don’t think any of us could imagine how this would feel. It’s like ‘How can I make money? Because this was my income.’ That’s where we want to come in and be able to help.”
Headshots for Houston
Help for victims of Hurricane Harvey has come in a variety of forms, from clothing to blood donations. In the photography world, it’s coming in the form of headshots. Headshots for Houston.
It all started with Georgia-based photographer Tracy Bosworth Page, who grew up in Aiken, South Carolina and whom Harding calls “the go-to girl in Atlanta” for headshots. Page had just organized an event in Orlando to benefit PPA partner charities there when Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston.
“It dawned on me that I should be doing something in Houston,” Page said.
Page launched Headshots for Houston with Orlando-based organizations Brevard Talent Group and 22 Talent, and the initiative quickly gained traction on Facebook. Photographers around the country started coming out of the woodwork, Page said. Her counterparts in Atlanta, Ohio and even the west coast wanted in.
“It just blew up,” Page said.
As Page sought help in what was becoming an ambitious project, she reached out to a close friend and colleague: North Augusta-based photographer Sally Kolar, another certified PPA photographer.
Kolar, who specializes in portraits and wedding photography, jumped in. The two Georgia-based photographers launched events in three cities where they do much of their work: Augusta, Orlando and Atlanta, scheduled for Sept. 25, Sept. 30 and Oct. 17, respectively. Each one would be an opportunity for people living in and around those cities to get half-priced ($50) headshots done by some of the most talented professionals in the business. All of the proceeds would go to Houston photographers who were struggling to keep their heads above water.
“Everybody’s been praying for Francie,” Kolar said. “We’re just helping in this small, little way.”
That small, little way has turned into a pretty impressive series of events. Oct. 17 in Atlanta will feature a diverse array of talent: Jeff Gulle, a film industry photographer who has been named Georgia’s photographer of the year multiple times over the last few years; Judy Host, an Atlanta-based photographer specializing in portraits and models; Ellis Vener, a corporate and industrial photographer and associate editor for Professional Photographer Magazine; Paul Sasso, a sports and dance photographer; Alex Arnett, an Atlanta-based photographer specializing in people and events, Page and Kolar.
Page will join Kolar’s event, too, which will be at Kolar’s North Augusta studio (802 E Martintown Rd) on Sept. 25. While the Atlanta and Orlando events will max out at 20 appointments, Kolar plans on going all day long.
“We’re hoping to raise $10,000-$20,000 (among all three events), and that would make $30,000-$40,000 that would go down (to Houston) to help them,” Kolar said.
That’s because the PPA has agreed to match whatever Headshots for Houston is able to raise, up to $100,000. That could make a real impact, Page says.
Stonestreet, Harding, Page and Kolar all say that the PPA is a community that looks out for each other, even if there are 30,000 of them. Headshots for Houston is just one example of that. After Houston began to flood, Stonestreet got a call from a photographer named Sara Hendrix. Hendrix lives in San Antonio, but she and her husband were already on their way to Houston, a bass boat and two jet skis in tow.
Harding is confident in her guild’s ability to stay strong. many parts of the Houston metro area are still flooded. It helps, Harding says, that the PPA Guild of Houston is one of the best in the country.
“We just have a terrific membership,” Harding says. “My fellow guild members, those who aren’t in our guild, we’re all in the same boat.”