The Power of Portraiture

©Michael Price

Throughout his career, Michael Price, Cr.Photog., has photographed many school sports teams in the Pickerington, Ohio, area. Earlier this year, he got a unique request from a K-6 wrestling team he’d worked with years ago.

Someone from the team contacted Price and explained that Jace and Ashley Spires, one of the husband-and-wife couples who coached in the program, had experienced a horrifying house fire a few weeks prior. Jace was killed in the blaze.

“We lost more than you can imagine,” Ashley Spires recalls. “We lost my husband—my children’s father—our dog, our cat, and all our possessions. When the fire was over, we ended up with two totes of belongings that were deemed unsafe to keep, and we had to discard them. We had nothing from before the fire, including photos and other keepsakes. Unfortunately, we didn’t have backups or copies, and nothing was saved to the cloud.”

The team asked the photographer if there was any way to recreate portraits that Price had made for the Spires family over the previous three years. The wrestling program had been a huge part of the family’s life.

“When the fire was over, we ended up with two totes of belongings that were deemed unsafe to keep, and we had to discard them. We had nothing from before the fire, including photos and other keepsakes.”

Ashley Spires

Before his passing, Jace was reluctant to be photographed; in fact, he didn’t appear in any images for the first two years that Price worked with the team. But the third year, Price had convinced Jace to be part of the team image and had made green screen portraits of him.

For a family grieving the loss of their husband and father—as well as the loss of their home—it was crucial to have something physical to remember him by.

“The prints were important to them. They wanted something to hold onto,” Price said. “I keep a detailed archive of all my finished images with everything organized and cross-referenced.” Price’s back-ups allowed him to find the images they needed quickly, including the green screen photos of Jace.

“They told me they didn’t have a family portrait of the four of them together, so I took individual images of each family member,” Price says. Then he extracted Jace from the green screen images and set to work in Photoshop. The result: a brand-new composite portrait of Jace, Ashley, and their children, all dressed in their team’s apparel and sporting bright smiles.

Little more than a week later, Price delivered a wall portrait plus several prints of Jace to the family.

©Michael Price
©Michael Price
Using green screen technology, Michael Price was able to combine an existing portrait of Jace Spires with new portraits of Ashley Spires and the couple’s children.

“The photos Mike replaced are the only parts of our family history we can carry forward,” Ashley said after receiving the images. “Everything we have, including clothing, furniture, and household items, have been donated from members of the community or purchased recently. The photographs are the only things from before that are ours and didn’t belong to someone else first. It means so much to me and my children to have something that belongs to us.”

Price emphasizes how important it is to adopt a service perspective with clients. “The portraits I deliver to clients may be the only lasting image that families have of their loved one,” he says. “It’s gratifying to me to execute quickly and help bring a small measure of joy to a family experiencing a difficult time.” 

Ashley agrees: “A photographer might have photos of thousands of people in their archives over the years. They may encounter a situation like ours only once or twice, but it’s worth it. Having these images replaced means the world to me.”

Alex Bauer is PPA’s communications specialist.