Giving Back: For NY Portrait Photographer, Pro Bono Is a Big Part...

Giving Back: For NY Portrait Photographer, Pro Bono Is a Big Part of the Picture

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Whether New York portrait photographer Sari Goodfriend is shooting for her editorial, corporate or private clients, her love for people and zest for life radiate in her images.

In the late 1990s, when she was starting as a photographer, she went to visit a college friend in the Peace Corps at Côte d’Ivoire (West Africa). They traveled around the country, promoting education for girls.

“With virtually zero experience photographing people, once I was there I realized I couldn’t not photograph people,” says Goodfriend. “Turns out, portraits are what I love most. I love meeting people, and in a country of beautiful, kind souls eagerly jumping in front of my camera, I got an instant lesson in how to be a portrait photographer.”

A growing clientele has brought a variety of assignments with the famous and not so famous. Walking around Harlem with chef Marcus Samuelsson for a “day in the life” story . . . photographing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Cardozo Law School . . . Anthony Bourdain at his old haunt, Les Halles . . . three 100-year-old women for a personal project . . . people with Lupus for a nonprofit—her first paying client. Moreover, Goodfriend captures her subjects in a realistic, heartwarming and often humble or brave light.

Pro Bono with Love

A family crisis jolted her into starting pro bono work in September 2007. “My mom was diagnosed with cancer, which, miraculously, she survived—twice! My reaction was, ‘What am I doing with my life? How have I contributed to the world?’ My mom was a much loved music teacher in New York City private schools. Just before her diagnosis, she taught a class in a housing project; they responded with so much love and joy.

The next day, I called Alicia Hansen, whom I knew through APA-NY when she was just beginning NYC SALT—a nonprofit celebrating its 10th anniversary of helping underserved low-income kids learn photography and get into and stay in college. I told Alicia to sign me up!”

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Alicia (left) and Sari (right) with SALT students just graduated from New Design High School, 2013. Photo courtesy NYC SALT

NYC SALT changed her life. Goodfriend started teaching immediately, and by 2009 she was mentoring students. She explains the value of SALT: “We mentors guide students through a yearlong personal photography project for SALT’s annual end-of-year exhibition/fundraiser. It’s a huge deal for the kids, a major confidence booster and even a career starter for some. SALT alums have even been hired to shoot for NYT Magazine, Bloomberg News and Vanity Fair.”

Goodfriend and a growing team of mentors provide guidance to students with college applications—essays, financial-aid applications, putting together a photography portfolio. They also visit colleges over spring break.

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Alicia Hansen photographs juniors at Syracuse University on a college trip, spring 2019. Photo by Sari Goodfriend

“The program started with teaching photography, but we’ve expanded exponentially due to our talented mentors with great networks,” she says. “We’re really a second family for most of the students, developing their confidence, connecting them with real-world experience and giving them extra love.”

Serendipitous Reward

An unexpected surprise came when one of her former students won a 12-day trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp in Nepal. He was also granted a full scholarship for the trip by photographer William Vazquez, through his business, Camera Voyages. Says Goodfriend, “There was a contest open to all SALT alums to explain why the trip would be a good experience. Their portfolios and essays were reviewed, and Danny was selected.” Goodfriend, Danny plus four other photographers shared the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Goodfriend and Danny Martinez at Everest Base Camp. © William Vazquez

While in Nepal, she and trip leader William Vazquez, who served with her on the board of APA-NY, photographed for an NGO called CITTA. The organization assists poor Nepali citizens, mostly girls and women, with health care, education and economic development. “Such NGOs operate on very slim margins, so they rarely can afford a professional photographer. Yet they desperately need high-end photos of their projects to attract donors to keep the projects going,” she explains.

Hardware & Advice

For professional assignments and teaching, Sari Goodfriend shoots with a Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24–70mm f/2.8 ED VR and AF-S 70–200 f/2.8 ED VR lenses, and an SB-5000 flash. For travel and personal photos, she adds the Fujifilm XT-2 with four lenses: the XF35mm f/1.4; XF10–24mm f/1.4 R OIS; XF16–55mm f/2.8 R LM WR; and XF55–200mm f/3.5 RLM OIS.

To photographers thinking about mentoring or pro bono work, she says: “Just do it. Don’t worry about the time commitment. Talk to people who have mentored or contact the program you would like to volunteer with to see how you could get involved gradually. Even an hour or two per week can make a difference, especially if you’re mentoring a teen or young child. With the help of a mentor, the entire course of their lives could change.

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SALT alum Mamadi Doumbouya (left) with mentor Ilitch Peters in front of Doumbouya’s work at 2017 exhibition. Kathy Ryan from NYT Magazine, saw his work and hired Doumbouya. Photo by Sari Goodfriend

“Being a mentor also will expand your life and give you a sense of pride. I regularly have former mentees over for dinner with lively discussions on challenges they face. We brainstorm steps they need to take in their burgeoning careers as well as how to take advantage of offerings at their colleges. It’s exciting to see them finding their way, living a life they might not otherwise have,” adds Goodfriend.

At Press Time

• Goodfriend is working on a proposal that expands NYC SALT offerings, a “How-to Adult” support system for life and work skills, such as navigating health care, asking for a raise, opening a bank account and managing a credit card.
• The students are applying for Scholastic awards for their photography. Last year, they won more than 100.
• NYC SALT is in the midst of a fundraiser, at crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/nycsalt1.

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NYC SALT students hold certificates recognizing their work becoming part of Morgan Stanley’s permanent collection, 2013. Photo by Sari Goodfriend

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