A Different Lens Can Change Your View on Things
By Samantha Michaels
Exploring Photography and Community
Years ago, my mother told me something very wise: “Honey,” she said. “If you’re going to invest in anything, invest in good shoes and a good mattress. You’ll be on one or the other the rest of your life.” As my free Craigslist mattress and hole-filled sneakers can attest, I still haven’t quite adopted the advice, but for whatever reason, I haven’t been able to forget it either, and I often share it with my own friends.
We all know that words can stick – sometimes for obvious reasons, sometimes without explanation. It’s a truth that London-based photographer Mario Cacciottolo knows well, and something she decided to document back in 2006. On her days off from work, Cacciottolo would walk around London, give strangers a white piece of paper, and ask them to write down a message that someone once told them. Then, with the paper in their hands, she would take a black and white portrait of them, often asking to learn more history behind the message.
Sometimes, the messages are deep (“Strength is something you choose,” “You’re an alcoholic,” “Your imperfections make you perfect.”) Sometimes, they’re just plain silly (“I shouldn’t have eaten that squirrel!” “You are such an old Hippie, ”Ooh, you and your cousin should get married…”). Either way, Cacciottolo posts the photographs to her online compilation, a project she calls, “Someone Once Told Me.” The result? An interesting reminder that daily interactions with our community members, whether strangers or loved ones, can shape who we are and how we see the world. “The words we hear impact on us, whether we want them to or not.” writes Cacciottolo, on her website.
When I first heard about “Someone Once Told Me,” I couldn’t stop thinking about the relationship between photography and community. Can photography help us document our communities? Can it help us create a community? How does it bring people together and spark conversation? Taking photographs can be a great way to get out into our neighborhoods and interact with strangers, as Cacciottolo does, or it can inspire us to view everyday landmarks with a new perspective. It also has the power to transcend language and cultural barriers, helping us understand what life is like in countries or communities we’ve never seen before.
Luckily, there are many ways to explore photography and community at the same time, even beyond “Someone Once Told Me.” The Digital Photography School website lists a few ideas, such as the “52 Photowalks Project,” which encourages photographers to navigate their neighborhoods once a week with a camera in hand, or “The 100 Strangers Project,” which dares them to approach 100 new people, ask to take a portrait, and ideally share a few minutes of conversation. Could you ever imagine yourself doing either of those things?
We want to know:
- Have you ever used photography to document your community? How? And what did you learn?
These thoughts were inspired by Mario Cacciottolo’s “Someone Once Told Me” Project.
*Home page featured photo by: Benmil222 from Wikimedia Commons