Their faces are honest and raw, at times looking withered and worn beneath the many lines of worry and sadness, but glints of hope sparkle in the corners of eyes that have witnessed the hardships of life on the streets. They are the Forgotten Faces of Memphis, captured through the lenses of Bill Piacesi’s cameras, and in their stark realism the truths of poverty are captured with an authenticity that calls to memory photos of the 1930s American heartland.
Bill operates Focus for the Good out of a studio in The Commons on Merton, putting his one-man nonprofit organization in the heart of the quest to make the community better for a host of marginalized segments of the Memphis population. He trades his services in exchange for the space and in doing so captures the work of his neighbors in ways only a professional photographer could.
In his photos, we see the Refugee Empowerment Program at work alongside the Door of Hope, which offers paths for homeless people to discover the potential of a better future.
Through art, the missions of all partners within The Commons overlap, and the possibilities of a regenerative community shine. “A lot of us kind of draw from the advantages of knowing each other within the building and it’s a unique experience,” Bill says, as he considers how the Center for Transforming Communities, which operates The Commons, has brought so many people together under one roof.
“It’s a unique experience as opposed to your typical business office where you can have five or six businesses in the same area that are totally disconnected and have nothing to do with each other.”
As the sole-proprietor of his operation, the benefits of being part of The Commons and intimately knowing the partner organizations are many, Bill says, because the struggles of marketing his work and ideas are lessened through the network he’s built there.
His ultimate goal is to catalyze social change through his art by telling the untold stories from the streets of Memphis. Like the photos from the time of the Great Depression or the height of the civil rights movement that first drew him to photography when he was a teenager, Bill’s pictures are a powerful means of bringing truth to light.“Not only were those images incredibly artistic but they were also powerful social messages that took what was going on in one part of the country and helped spread that notion to a wider community, and ended up leading to social change,” he says.His hope for similar change is what he pours into the Forgotten Faces of Memphis and the work of Focus for the Good.
(Editors Note: Many of the photographs on this website and blog are courtesy of Bill Piacesi and Focus for the Good.)