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Portraits with a purpose

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 07:45 PM

Who would have guessed Spring Hill was among many cities of a major global project?

As a matter of fact, it's the third year in a row that Hernando County was represented in this worldwide monumental task.

The project gained national attention on TV's Kathie Lee & Hoda, as well as being written up in a story within the pages of Southwest Airlines' Spirit Magazine. It's called "Help! Portrait."

Created by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, the concept has really gained momentum.

Each year, especially during this season of giving, photographers from all over the world take part in a simple task — find people in need, take their portrait, print their portrait and give it to them, free of charge.

Help! Portrait Hernando team leader Harold Hutchinson Jr. started the local effort three years ago.

"I started this project solely because God put it on my heart to do so," he said. "I have lived in this community my entire life, I love the community and love photography, so when I heard about the Help! Portrait project, I thought 'What a no-brainer.'"

Hutchinson is a lieutenant with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and a talented photographer in his own right.

With the help of fellow photographers William Pierson, Christopher Fiffie, William Tillis, Will Vragovic and Octavio Jones, the photographers worked on their own time, using their own photographic gear and plied their talent to give back to those in the community who were less fortunate.

When Hutchinson brought this year's project to the attention of Nancy Stubbs, development director of The Arc Nature Coast, the wheels were set in motion for a day of giving at The Arc's education center off Mariner Boulevard.

Like clockwork, the doors to The Arc opened every 30 minutes. In walked folks and family, many of whom were not strangers to the center. They were developmentally disabled, but they had a reservation for a portrait session and they were prompt.

After checking in, they proudly made their way to the makeshift photo studio in the main room of The Arc's education center.

Whisking by on his walker, Eugene Olson, 85 made a beeline for the portrait area.

He was catching up with Ken Hopley, 83, and Doug Hopley, 81, brothers who attend The Arc programs. Their sister Debbie Dwyer, who also is their caregiver, accompanied them as the lone female in their portrait.

Posing the subjects amid the backdrops and umbrella lights, the photographers used various shooting techniques to capture a great portrait. Each session was scheduled and staggered thirty minutes apart.

In another room, William Pierson was editing, cropping and printing the portrait images in his laptop computer. At the same time he was printing them while the subjects waited nearby.

When Pierson handed over the portrait to Pat O'Brien and daughter, Arc client Elizabeth O'Brien, 48, Pat was ecstatic and Elizabeth's smile was just a little bit bigger than the one she had on her face in the portrait.

"It's precious," she said.

"We've seen smiles as well as tears after we print a photograph and hand it to them," said Hutchinson. "I think I can speak for all of the photographers when I say that it's a pretty good feeling to see people smile. Many of the people photographed have never had a formal portrait made of them."

Fiffie took time off from working on some of his business projects to donate his time. This was Fiffie's third year assisting.

He realizes some people can't afford or have the opportunity to go into a portrait studio.

"It's a way I can give back creatively from the talent I have," Fiffie said.

It was obvious from the smiles and laughter in the room, the Help! Portrait Hernando project did what it set out to do.

Stubbs said she was so grateful for all the volunteer photographers that donated their time and talents. She said the event was very special and a real treat for customers and families.

Hutchinson was thankful too.

"I'm fortunate to have great friends who are willing to share their time, gear, and talent to brighten the lives of others," he said. "We have served about 50 families in our

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