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Providing Faith Through Frames

For many of us, framed family portraits and candid 5 x 7s are sprinkled throughout our homes and offices — frozen moments in time that illustrate our life’s story and feature what’s most important to us: our family, our friends, and our most cherished memories.

But for families who are struggling to cover even the most basic of life’s necessities, or for those who have no home, family portraits just aren’t in the cards. And as a result, pages and chapters of their stories remain blank — a stark illustration of the vast and deep hopelessness one can feel during times of extreme challenge.

But today, thanks in part to grant support from the Community Foundation, one photographer is working to change that by offering free portrait photography and photo ID cards, to families and neighbors in need.

Steve Johnson was fresh out of college when he bought his first camera just over 25 years ago.

Steve Johnson

An outdoors enthusiast, taking photos of nature and wildlife was just a hobby until 2018, when he decided to start his own photography business. His plan was to take portrait and commercial photos for clients throughout the area. Soon after though, Johnson said he felt called to use his skill as a photographer to take a different kind of photo — he wanted to capture and provide family portraits of those in need throughout Sioux Falls.

“The idea first came to me while taking pictures of church activities and events for Peace Lutheran Church’s ‘Pieces of Peace’ weekly video,” Johnson said. “This was the first time I started pointing my camera at people rather than animals and landscapes, and I really enjoyed the challenge of capturing those moments. I soon began thinking about pursuing a career as a professional portrait photographer, but when I started praying about becoming one, God changed my mind. I knew there had to be people in Sioux Falls that would enjoy a family or self-portrait, but who are without the means to obtain one.”

And so, Faith Through Frames began.

In its early days, the effort primarily provided free printed and framed portraits to attendees of Peace Lutheran’s “Necessities for Neighbors” events, as well as those who were un-housed and/or struggling with poverty and were part of Church on the Street.

In early 2019, Johnson approached the Community Foundation with a grant proposal, hoping to offer the service to even more neighbors in need.

The Community Foundation loved the idea and awarded Johnson a grant to help expand and support Faith Through Frames.

Rebel Hurd, minister and mission developer for Church on the Street, said Johnson’s work is bringing joy to those who, perhaps, need it the most.

“A family who is struggling with poverty and/or homelessness is not going to get a professional photo taken, so to see the joy in their eyes when they receive (a photo from Johnson) — it’s truly amazing,” Hurd said.

We all have a story, and our stories deserve to be chronicled. What Steve Johnson is doing through Faith Through Frames is such a great example of the good that can come from people helping people. We are honored to partner with Steve as he uses his skills to help our neighbors in need illustrate their life’s stories and memories.

— Patrick Gale, Vice President, Community Investment

Providing Ongoing Support

The Foundation’s initial grant has helped Faith Through Frames to capture and share more than 1,000 portraits. As the organization continues to expand its reach, it's also stepping forward to help in new ways. One example: In the wake of the pandemic, with so many families impacted by economic consequences of COVID-19, Faith Through Frames worked to create photo ID cards to help individuals access food pantries in the area.

Seeing the impact of Faith Through Fames in the lives of individuals and families thanks to the initial grant, earlier this year the Foundation awarded the organization a second grant to help it expand to a physical location which includes a portrait studio. The new space, Johnson said, has allowed him to offer more services, including senior portraits for families in need.

Steve Johnson with Faith Through Frames takes photos at his portrait studio in downtown Sioux Falls. (Photos by Emily Spartz Weerheim)

Their Stories

Behind the lens of his camera, Johnson’s heart often breaks.

“Words can’t describe (what it’s like to) hear a family say, ‘We have never had a family picture taken before,’” he said. “I hear that a lot.”

Standing in front of Johnson’s lens, another family shared: “Our place just burned down and this (will be) the only photo we have of us.”

Another family, with excitement, said this: “We just got our first apartment after living on the streets and can’t wait to hang our picture.”

While his photos are making a difference for neighbors in need, Johnson said working on behalf of Faith Through Frames has changed his life as well.

“I am absolutely floored with humility at being able to hand a family or an individual a portrait that they will either carry with them, share with family, or hang on the wall in their home. The biggest change in my life is now having conversation, laughs, and sometimes tears with people who I would have previously just walked by and not even noticed. Being able to take my passion with what I love to do and share that with those most in need, well it just doesn’t get any better than that,” Johnson said.

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