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In Focus

Local photographer uses his talent for the greater good.

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When Bill Piacesi moved to Memphis from Virginia in 2009, he was immediately struck by the gap between the Bluff City's "haves" and "have-nots."

"Just driving down Poplar Avenue for a couple of miles, you can see the difference is pretty staggering," Piacesi said.

That wide gap between impoverished and middle-class or wealthy Memphians inspired Piacesi to launch Focus for the Good, a nonprofit organization that offers affordable photography services to other nonprofits.

Through Focus for the Good, Piacesi will also soon begin teaching photography skills to kids from low-income families and creating fine art portraits of the city's underprivileged.

Since he launched the organization in April, Piacesi has been shooting events hosted by charities, such as the homeless resource group Door of Hope, the Memphis School of Servant Leadership, and Families of Incarcerated Individuals. All of those organizations share offices in Binghampton's Center for Transforming Communities, where Focus for the Good is headquartered.

"A lot of established nonprofits do their own in-house photography, and a lot of it isn't very good. Part of that is the equipment they're using, and part of it is that they've never been trained on how to take an image and make it powerful," Piacesi said.

Eventually, Piacesi would like to train members of nonprofits to shoot their own photographs. In the fall, he also plans to launch photography classes for young girls involved with Girls Inc.

Piacesi and Girls Inc. recently applied for a grant to fund the program, through which girls will be taught basic photo composition, given point-and-shoot cameras, and instructed to shoot images within their communities. After the 8 to 10 week program, the images will be collected in a scrapbook.

"Getting this library of images from the kids will be a very powerful tool in letting outsiders know about their world. We can post the images on the internet, and maybe it will become a viral version of those old Dust Bowl-era photographs and Civil Rights-era photographs that were so powerful and artistic," Piacesi said.

When Piacesi launched Focus for the Good, his aim was to photograph the underprivileged and display the images in local galleries.

"My first idea was to do fine art portraits of the homeless with the idea that if anybody is photographed with the right lens and in the right light, they could be seen as a work of art, " Piacesi said. "If I could do a series of photos along those lines and get them into galleries where people could see them. Then maybe when that person sees another homeless person on the street, it'll be a tiny bit more difficult to walk by."

Piacesi has already taken several such portraits for Door of Hope, and he plans to continue collecting the images. If he hosts an art show and someone purchases a portrait, part of the proceeds would go back to the homeless person who sat as a model.

Having spent the past 25 or so years of his life working in studio photography, Piacesi is finally fulfilling his lifelong dream of working for the greater good.

"I feel like I've gotten my mojo back," Piacesi said. "For the first 25 years, it was all about winning awards and being noticed for my creativity. But for the next 25 years, I want to take those skills and pass them on to people who otherwise might not have access."

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