I Started a $2 Portraits Group on Flickr


As some of you who follow my blog know, recently I’ve decided to begin a new project. The idea of the project is that I will give $2 to anyone who asks me for money in exchange for their portrait for the rest of my life. I’m calling the project $2 Portraits. The goal of the project is simple. To increase human interaction. Here’s my first blog post introducing the project to learn more.

I’ve taken 23 of these portraits since I’ve started this project, mostly I run into people asking me for money when I’m out and about shooting on the streets of San Francisco. With each portrait that I take I try to find out the persons first name and also learn a little bit more about them, which I include with their portrait.

A few people have approached me asking if I’d mind if they also pursued their own version of the project. Personally I think that the best ideas frequently are shared ones and I think it’s really great that other people would like to be involved with their own projects like this.

With that in mind I started a group on Flickr for $2 portraits. You can get to the group here. If you’d like to post photos of people from your own version of this project to this group that would be great.

Lawrence (left)

I met Lawrence outside of the Civic Center BART station, near the Burger King. As I was approaching the escalator to go down into the BART Lawrence saw that I had a camera with me and said to me "photos $2."

I asked Lawrence how he knew about my $2 portrait project and he said he didn’t, that that was just what he charged for photos. I told Lawrence that it was fortunate that we passed each other today because that’s exactly what I pay for portraits.

Lawrence said that he was from all over. He said he went to school in Italy. He said he had two daughters and is a single dad. He said he was past the breeding stage though. He said one of his daughters is studying bio chemistry down at UC San Diego.

Lawrence told me that once a woman took a picture of a wedding dress he was seling for $5. He asked her what she was going to do with the photo and she said put it in a magazine. He said he asked her how much she was going to get for the magazine photo and she said $260 and he told me that he told her then that the photo of the wedding dress would be $60. He said she paid him. With that Lawrence added that if I ended up selling his photo to be on the cover of Time or People Magazine that I was going to have to come back and pay him some more money.

I thought that Lawrence looked a little bit like the character Lester Freeman from the TV show the Wire.

John (right)

I met John outside of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. I was wearing my headphones when I was walking by him and he started waving his hands at me. I took my headphones off to talk to John and he asked me if I had any pennies. He said he was trying to get pennies.

I told John that I didn’t have any pennies but told him about my $2 project. After I told him about it he thought about it for a few seconds and then said he’d pose for a portrait for $5. I told him that the project only paid $2 and he agreed to do it for $2.

John said he was originally from Washington DC. He said, "you know, like Ronald Reagan." John said that he was the same age as Ronald Reagan. I told him that he didn’t look that old and he said that he was that he was 62 or 63.

John talked for a bit about the king of Belgium. He said he was big like the king of Belgium.

I asked John who he wanted to be elected President and he said it didn’t matter that any of them would do.

I thanked John and gave him his $2 and went on my way.

Be Sociable, Share!
Loading Facebook Comments ...


  1. Christer says:

    Great idea with the $2 project and the Flickr group. I will try to follow your example here in Sweden. I suppose it will be “The SEK20 Project” over here though 🙂


  2. Anonymous says:

    The only problem is that $2 is worth much less than $2 was worth even a year ago, if that makes sense. Prices are going up and I don’t think 2 bucks even buys a sandwich does it? I live in Britain and I give homeless people £2 which is about $4 and I don’t require a photo. Two bucks seems a bit cheap to me for someones time and for them to talk to you for x minutes.

  3. Brad says:

    Dunno… Just seems strange to me – mixing cash handouts with street portraits.

    I also do street photos/portraits in SF and a handout occasionally. Much prefer to keeping the acts separate.

  4. emon says:

    I think I’ll start one in NYC. Let me rephrase: I’m pretty sure I’m starting one in NYC.

    Thanks for starting this!

  5. Rasmus says:

    I have to say, I am a huge fan of your project. That you take the time to hear their stories and pass it on with the photos is fantastic. Opening it up with a Flickr group is awesome, thought I hope others will remember the human side as well.

  6. tracy says:

    i have a rule of typically not photographing homeless people, i feel like i’m exploiting them if i shoot them. however, in D.C. there has been an occasion or two where they have asked me to take their picture. i usually don’t carry cash and feel horrible when they do ask me to take their pic and i can’t give them anything in return. maybe i’ll start carrying $2 bills moving forward. great project.

  7. Brad says:

    >>> i have a rule of typically not photographing homeless people, …

    Me too. Out of tens of thousands of SF pix I've yet to take a shot of a (what appears to be) "homeless" person.

    A lot of street photogs snap them in San Francisco and other urban areas cuz they're easy, many times ill, don't complain, and present little risk of being chased. But I've yet to see a compelling photo that says anything interesting. Just easy snaps that usually aren't well thought out.

    Sure, if one wants to do a long-term in-depth project; engaging deeper, working in a kitchen or shelter, eating/staying with them, that's totally different. But that's rare.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant idea Thomas, I’m in.


  9. Anonymous says:

    I like the idea, but it reminds me of Tom Stone’s work. You should come up with something more creative than the two buck deal that sets you apart from his project.


  10. Anonymous says:

    RC helicopters have become a very common RC toy lately and come in a variety of prices and types. Many problems that beginners face are what type of helicopter to choose, power source for it and whether they want an indoor or outdoor one. With many more options on top of those you can imagine how difficult it is for beginners to take off, literally. First let’s talk about the different power sources that a RC model airplanes can have, and which one will best suit you. Forget cards and gentle aerobics – the best way to keep the elderly sharp is to teach them to play video game s , new research suggests.
    led light®, Inc., a leading flashlight manufacturer for fire and rescue uses, has introduced the Vantage(TM), a compact, low-profile tactical flashlight that attaches easily to full-brim fire helmets. The new hands-free light features new C4(TM) power led flashlight technology which produces two to three times the output of Super High Flux led flashlights and a special safety tail light so firefighters can be followed in even the thickest smoke.

  11. James Hoang says:

    Thats a great idea. I’d probably go broke if I offered every person I passed by needing money $2 to take their portraits though. I’d certainly do a few just because.

  12. Coty says:

    Wow, that was a great read, Thomas. I especially like how you give a little tidbit about each person in the portrait.

  13. George says:

    Hi. Sounds like you have a nice project going. Certainly a bit contreversial from what I see.

    I found this blog via Google when doing research for a project I started recently. I don't plan on taking portraits of homeless people, just everyone that gives me a minute of their time. I will not be donating the dollar to them though, rather in their name to a charity. I've chosen Cancer Council Australia and will be working officially with them. It's my hope with the proper credentials the public will feel generous and comfortable enough to match my dollar or more.

    I will also be displaying my portraits on a website where people can come and have a look, donate via the site and possibly buy a print of their portrait.

    I will be using 120 film both in b&w; and colour. It'll be set up on a tripod in a busy area in the city with a sign explaining what I'm doing and I'll be handing out business cards so they can come have a look at the site.

    I've developed a site so far and have the ground work complete for a sign and cards. I expect to be up and running within a week or two.

    Check it out here ktnxbi.com/portrait

    I plan on following all of your projects and will support you via blog posts and any way I can. Well done to all for doing something good for your community while enjoying a magnificent hobby.

  14. Mick O says:

    I think a number of people are missing that, from my reading, Mr. Hawk is not “offering” $2 to homeless people because he wants to take their picture — rather when people approach him and ask Mr. Hawk for money first, then will he respond with this proposal.

    I think this is an important distinction. Approaching somebody down on their luck to take their picture surely is controversial, but responding to their overture with a counter proposal seems much more interesting and defensible.

    At least, that’s how I read it. And even if Mr. Hawk wasn’t saying that, that’s how I’ll do it.

  15. Chris says:

    I don’t understand why some people on this thread are so opposed to this idea. Can you imagine if only half of the currently 155 members actually take a photograph a day? That means that that close to eighty people will be getting a few dollars for lunch or breakfast every day, and photographers will be creating images that remind their audiences of a massive and overlooked problem in this country!

    While in China last month I spent a lot of time hiking through fairly remote areas and met all kinds of people. At one point I decided to stuff a bunch of change into my pocket and proceeded to hand out the equivalent of about a dollar to every person I asked to photograph on the streets of Fenghuang. Many of those, for whom one dollar was much more than they would receive by begging on the street, gave me striking and poignant images and laughed or joked with me while I took their picture. Those photographs are on my blog as well.

    Thanks for making a group for this and contributing to impacting people – even if only a few at a time – in a direct and meaningful way.

  16. While in China last month I spent a lot of time hiking through fairly remote areas and met all kinds of people. At one point I decided to stuff a bunch of change into my pocket and proceeded to hand out the equivalent of about a dollar to every person I asked to http://www.nike-max-tn.com

  17. […] 4) On the topic of project ideas, Thomas Hawk has written in detail about his $2 Portraits -  a great idea if ever I head one – check it out here […]

  18. […] I Started a $2 Portraits Group on Flickr Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection Thomas Hawk has been pursuing a project where he offers people asking for money $2 in exchange for their portrait. Now he’s even started a Flickr group so others can join him. […]