The Bridge Project
January 12, 2011
Chicago-based photographer Jason Riker is known for his advertising, beauty and fashion work for such clients as Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren. He knows how to connect with people and bring out their personalities, so it certainly was not a stretch for him to photograph kids for the University of Denver-based Bridge Project that conducts mentoring programs in public housing sites throughout the city.
The Bridge Project’s mission is to provide educational opportunities for children living in Denver’s public housing neighborhoods so that they graduate from high school and attend college or learn a trade. The program strives to be a bridge to a better life offering after school, adult, summer, and scholarship opportunities. Skills and resources are developed for future careers and doors are opened to succeed with emphasis on education, self esteem and self confidence.
Riker stepped into this project working with Sandy Laws, President and Owner of Lawscomm, a small boutique agency in Denver and a board director for The Bridge Project. This year she was acting co-chair for the Bridge Project Gala, the largest single source of revenue for this non-profit organization and served as creative director for the annual fundraising event. Since Riker had worked with her on an earlier portrait assignment, she was confident he had the skills to tell the stories and show the personalities of the children in the Bridge Project. Laws had to figure out how to bring as many kids into the gala event without actually having them there physically, and Riker was her solution.
“We collaborated on the project, and I suggested filming it in black and white with a beautiful light quality. I had to film the children at four different locations, and I added a swivel chair to the set in order to bring out some of the younger kid’s personalities,” says Riker. As part of the project, he made stills from the motion piece in order to give the client and the Bridge Project more creative assets to work with for their fundraising efforts. Since the project was to debut at the annual fundraiser event, accompanied by live music, it had to “bring the kids into the room.” It also had to achieve a timeless, authentic feel with the kids having fun and able to be themselves.
Riker developed this as a motion piece and shot nearly 160 kids over three consecutive days at four Bridge Project locations in the Denver area. Since this was not shot in a studio and space was limited, it was critical to figure out the right gear to use and still get the look he wanted. For preparation, he met with Executive Director Molly Calhoun to review locations so he could get a sense of how to plan his setups. The teachers at each location were instrumental in expediting the shoot, as the window for shooting the kids was less than two hours per day. It was important to squeeze as much as possible in the shoot and not derail each child’s scheduled study period.
As Laws puts it, “Jason’s work on the project exceeded my expectation. It was very exciting watching the 500 people in the room experience this video.” The finished video was 30 minutes long and people were attentive to the screen for long periods of time as the children’s images came up. “I am 100 percent certain that the video was a major factor in why we had record amount of donations,” says Laws. The video did exactly what she had hoped and moved people to give to the project by bringing the kids right into the room. “Jason did the work over a two-week period and as usual, he was easy to work with, very professional and delivered it on time and on budget,” she adds.
The still images will be used for all of the formal pieces of The Bridge Project’s marketing program, including public relations and media. The images have been very meaningful for The Bridge Project staff, the children, and their families as well. Most of the families in the program do not have pictures of their children, as their limited resources are not spent on school and holiday photos. Sometimes these are the only photographic memories these families will have of their children. Photos are a luxury that not everyone has access to, so the children’s portraits become a gift to the families.
The Bridge Project provides a safe place for study and encourages, nurtures and gives support. The Project will continue to have a presence in every public-housing development and community that requests their services. Much of their success can be attributed to the motion and still imagery of Jason Riker, who has brought beauty, personality and personal gifts to the families and staff.