Bob Jensen plays with three children as he makes candid photographs of them at the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services Clothing Program. "You've got such an amazing face. Do you know that?" he says in a gentle voice to Yhamani Jordon, 7. He looks into her eyes. She grins at him between bites of a donut. The shutter clicks as they commune in mutual respect and friendship. Jensen, a volunteer at the Clothing Program, began creating portraits of the clients in May, after realizing that many could not afford pictures of themselves or their families. His photographs grace the walls of the Clothing Program, and he gives prints to those whose glowing faces he has captured. He believes this work serves an important purpose. "These are members of our community who are unacknowledged - ignored," he says. "The first step is to make them visible."
Jensen, 70, a retired psychology professor, began volunteering at the Clothing Program 4 years ago as a family activity with his wife, Anne, and son, Andy, who was 15 at the time. "I wanted (my son) to be introduced to a wide array of folks and circumstances," he said, and then learn "we're all alike." The family got to know the people at the Clothing Program and decided that they had found their perfect volunteer activity.
Seeing a need for pictures on the wall earlier this year Jensen began asking that the Clothing Program clients bring in pictures of themselves wearing the clothes they had chosen. For months no one brought back a single photograph and he learned that it was never going to happen.
An advanced amatuer photographer himself, he decided that he would like to start making pictures, but was not sure if people would be comfortable with it. "We talked to three people and got a response from ten. Then it just snowballed," he said. Jensen applied himself to learn more about photography, lighting and composition, realizing that his photographs were in demand. He recalls one woman who had tears in her eyes when he gave her a picture of her mother because she'd never had one before.
On November 30, Jensen met with a budding family of five to create a holiday portrait for them. Some of them were candid, others were posed in front of a Christmas tree.
"It's hard enough to pay rent and get food not to mention the holidays," said the mother, Deseree Jordon of Sacramento. Professional portraits are a luxury item to them. Their home is now decorated with Jensen's photographs.
"You always need memories," said her fiancee, Rashad James. "What's family without memories?"
Jensen has compiled his growing body of work into a personal photo book that he titled "Invisible Sacramento - Visible." His photography is just beginning to define itself, develop a voice and provoke questions from it's viewers. Born out of friendship first, and then a sense of giving to others he thinks this growing body of work may one day help shed light into the lives and personalities of Sacramentans in need. But for now he's enjoying every moment and letting the work come naturally.
"It's a place where I can give and receive," he said. "I can make really great human connections. It keeps me vital. These people give me a lot of energy."
Do you know an extraordinary volunteer who should be profiled in the I Care column? Please email suggestions to Autumn Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.