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Galleries, photographers capture spirit of children in need of homes

By Eden Pontz, CNN
The grand opening exhibit of the photographs was held Wednesday at the Times Square Information Center in New York.
The grand opening exhibit of the photographs was held Wednesday at the Times Square Information Center in New York.
  • Celebrity photographers join the effort to help children in need of a home
  • They hope the kids will be seen in a different light
  • The event is part of National Adoption Month
  • Heart Gallery NYC works with other locations in the U.S. and Canada

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New York (CNN) -- A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for foster children in New York City and across the country, a picture is worth improved self-esteem, and potentially, a new home and family.

As part of National Adoption Month, Heart Gallery NYC along with more than 100 other Heart Gallery locations in the United States and Canada have teamed up renowned celebrity portrait and fashion photographers.

The photographers will take pictures of children in the foster care system in need of permanent adoptive families -- in hopes the kids will be seen in a different light.

On Wednesday evening at New York's Times Square Information Center, some foster kids found themselves staring back at their larger-than-life-sized pictures among the lights of Broadway at a grand opening exhibit held in their honor.

For celebrity photographers such as Robert Ascroft, whose clients include Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, and Mariah Carey; Howard Schatz, whose shutters have exposed the likes of Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg and Brooke Shields; and Barbara Bordnick, whose works are in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography as well as innumerable magazines, volunteering their time and studios made for a change and reward, but came with challenges.

"I was hoping I could make them feel comfortable and make them feel special -- I wondered if I'd be able to do that," Bordnick said, voicing concern that she "... wanted to get 'them' on film, not make them into anything."

Paul Lange, a celebrity photographer who counts Halle Berry, Tyra Banks and Oprah among his clients said, "My whole career was fashion and beauty. The nice thing about it is, instead of selling a product, we're campaigning for a person's future. It spoke to me to give these kids an opportunity to get a foot up on the ladder."

Lange said his biggest surprise was the "genuineness" in the children's expression.

"It's like they're saying, 'I'm a good person inside. Give me a chance.' They're dying for an opportunity for someone to step forward and take a chance on them," he said.

Jasmine, 14, who posed next to her portrait at the exhibit, said she loved it.

"I was shocked at first to see it, but I like it. ... I feel like a star."

Laurie Sherman Graff, founder of Heart Gallery NYC, says one picture can make all the difference.

"Some of the pictures prospective families typically see of these children -- it's like looking at a driver's license photo compared to these photos."

An average shoot for the project takes several hours. For some of the kids, the shoot provides a mini-family reunion.

Lange said he's photographed siblings who are living in the system, but not necessarily together.

"I've had grandparents, aunts, uncles, show up at my studio so they can have an afternoon together," he said.

Once the final photographs have been chosen for each kid, giant posters are created to be exhibited for four to six weeks at high-trafficked spots including Times Square, Grand Central Station, malls and airports -- places where their curators hope to get many eyes on them.

Along with the exhibit, recruitment and information tables are set up for when people stop and ask, "What are these pictures about?" Graff said.

Jean, 18, is close to being too old for the foster-care system, but says his poster inspires him.

"Spontaneous, handsome, intelligent," were words he used to describe his chosen shot.

"I'd like to be a star for eternity. But for now, I hope to get a family and live my life," Jean said.