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Sonoma Photo Project

Two months after the fires raged their wrath through the North Bay, local families gathered at Luther Burbank Art and Gardens in Santa Rosa with the promise of replacing a much treasured heirloom – a family portrait.

Mimi Carroll, a local photographer, created this event by designating December 9 as Photo Day. She, like so many others wasn’t certain how to help, what would have impact and make people’s lives a little less painful, a little richer. But sometimes you can’t construct a plan. Sometimes you just need to pose the question and be patient until an answer appears. Mimi did just that. She went to sleep one night thinking, “Your house is your stuff. Your home is your heart.”  A few hours later she bolted awake with full clarity, thinking: “We need to photograph these families, we need to replace their family portraits.”

Carroll is a member of the Sonoma County Photography Group, which was formed over eight years ago and now boasts over 2000 members. In creating this event, she initially contacted Ray Mabry, one of the group’s organizers who had also been experiencing that same feeling of helplessness when it came to offering support. “But Mimi, Mimi is our biggest dreamer,” he explained. “She puts the ideas out and everyone steps up. She came up with the idea of a photo day for everyone. And it grew and grew and grew.”

The only concern that Mabry had was whether or not this would be happening too soon for these families. But he then realized “It’s never too soon to give back. This will support all these good people in looking forward.”

So with Mabry’s support, Carroll then contacted photographers throughout their group and many enthusiastically responded. In total, 18 photographers and 45 assistants offered their time and expertise. Pulitzer Prize-winner Deanne Fitzmaurice was among the group, in addition to Kent Porter, member of The Press Democrat. Porter confirmed his eagerness to help, “It’s the least I could do. What a great way to show feedback and support. Everyone knows someone who is affected. Anything I can do for the community to give back.”

Carroll then contacted the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, where office manager Kristen Skold enthusiastically welcomed the event onto their grounds. They waived all fees and instructed Carroll to “bring in all the people you want and take as many photos as you need, this is that important.”

The day finally arrived and unveiled a chilly but sunny morning with 72 families nervous but still eager to create new beginnings. Each family was assigned a photographer, and then led to several spots throughout the beautiful grounds to shoot their portraits. There were large families as well as couples. Some brought extended family members while others brought their dogs. Although all were a bit nervous at first, these gracious photographers quickly established warm and fun relationships with every family.

A myriad of companies and foundations were instrumental in putting the event into motion. ARC Copies created canvases for each family while Shutterbug provided prints. Additionally, WomensVoices, a women’s group located in Los Angeles, covered the cost of flash drives and mailing components. ThinkTank donated camera bags and other supplies for the photographers, in addition to bringing several assistants.

“So many people, groups of people are providing support to those affected by these fires. So many have stepped up - photographers, chefs, artists, writers. And they are getting as much if not more out of this experience. What a unifying experience this day is. What a good feeling.” Said Will Bucquay, also a photographer with The Press Democrat.

What began as Carroll’s private inspiration evolved into a full and rich community event. The warmth and humor offered by the photographers and their assistants allowed family members to relax and enjoy the process. And also begin to takes the steps necessary to recreate their future. “I am just touched with the gratitude and love that has been expressed here today,” Carroll said.

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