EUGENE — It was a little thing, a couple of clicks of a camera shutter, but it gave Linda Salgado, Brian Gohl and their 2-year-old son Kaydyn Salgado something that will last a long time. The photo portrait, shot under the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge on a recent Saturday afternoon, is a permanent keepsake that says the three are family.
The couple used to have drug problems, but for the past few months they've been clear of drugs, staying at the Eugene Mission and trying to put their lives back together.
"We changed our lives for our family's sake," Salgado said. The free portrait — two precious pictures — helps them feel good about the choices they're making now, she said.
And that's one of the reasons photographer Aloma Calacin was out there Saturday with two volunteers. People treasure family photos and everyone — whether they can afford it or not — deserves to have them, she said. So for the past year and a half, Calacin has been photographing homeless people and giving them the prints. She calls it the Free Photo Project. The idea came to her one day at her computer when she was looking at the hundreds of pictures she had taken of her kids.
"It made me appreciate those pictures and the people who don't have pictures of their kids," said Calacin, who is 29.
In the early days of the project, she would go it alone with a small point-and-shoot digital camera. After taking the pictures, she would run to a nearby store, make digital prints and run back to give them out.
Now she comes equipped with a Canon Rebel T1i and two portable photo printers.
And she has help. Katie Campbell, a professor at the University of Oregon, has been a regular member of the project, helping Calacin with borrowing equipment from the university and lending her own expertise. UO student Zach Ancell also has been on hand to take pictures.
They give the prints away, but there is a cost to produce them.
"We are always buying ink and paper. We recently just set up a table at the Springfield Farmers' Market and we did what we usually do ... but we set out a jar for donations. I believe we made enough money to pay for two ink cartridges," Calacin said.
She held a money-raising photo shoot during a potluck at the church she attends, South Hills Church in Eugene. Family and friends also have kicked in, she said.
St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County also sponsors the project, which means that anybody donating through St. Vincent can write the donation off on their taxes. The Free Photo Project has an online donation account on the project's Web site.
"We've had two donors. One was $5 from somebody, and the other was $80 from somebody in Brooklyn who had heard about us. We have no idea how or who it was," Calacin said.
In trying to fund the project, Calacin has applied for a Pepsi Refresh Project grant; which could net the Free Photo Project $50,000. Winners are based on a national public vote, so Calacin said she hopes people will vote for them on the Pepsi Refresh Web site at refresheverything.com. The deadline is May 31.
One day she hopes to achieve nonprofit status, but until then all the bookkeeping takes place in a folder full of business cards taped to sheets of paper and receipts with Free Photo Project written on them.
The stories people tell are what keeps her going, Calacin said.
"We got a sweet e-mail after doing a Thanksgiving event," she said. "A family of seven got their picture taken at the event, and they sent an e-mail thanking us because they had never had their picture taken with all of them together before."
Calacin has been able to provide stamps and envelopes at a couple of events so people could send their pictures to loved ones.
"One guy who looked like he had been on the streets for a while asked for three copies so he could send one to each of his three kids who he hadn't seen for a while. It makes me think of the kinds of reconnections that happen because of that picture," she said.
On May 15, Calacin and her two helpers took 75 pictures and gave out 150 prints.
Some were of families, some were of friends, some were of individuals who wanted to send a picture to a love one. All waited patiently for their turn in front of the camera.
Yesenia Rodriguez, a Eugene mother of three, had to coax 3-year-old daughter Briny, who stared thoughtfully at the camera, but wouldn't crack a grin until her siblings, 12-year-old Nora and 9-year-old Cristobal, joined her in the picture.
"I want to have a memento of my daughter from when she is young," Rodriguez said.