Video Portraits
community engagement
Basilicata, Italy 2014
Video portraits was the first project in which I used my camera as a means of engagement to spark conversations and to make connections, rather than a tool for collecting images and sounds. After working in broadcast media I became disillusioned and wanted to experiment with other methods of using the camera. I was interested in forging deeper connections and setting the foundations for long-term sustainable change. This led to an experiment in using the camera for beginning meaningful conversations. A method for beginning a process of sharing ideas and listening to each other. In response to the flow of Matera this was a spontaneous, resilient, patient way of connecting with the community, allowing locals to take the lead in defining the content. Adapting to the social and cultural rhythms of Matera, Italy.
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The video portraits were a collaboration with people from Matera and the surrounding Basilicata region. Working with locals, often in a spontaneous playful way, together we asked people to record a one-minute video. Using the camera as an excuse to encourage people to share what they are thinking about in the moment, that which they want to communicate with others in their community: ideas, concerns, dreams, passions, or challenges. This initial excuse for interaction often led to much longer conversations which were not recorded. Interestingly what happened before and after the camera was recording became a way of connecting locals. The goal was to remove myself as much as possible from the process, so that the results reflected Basilicata back to itself, unfiltered. To avoid any editorial influence questions were wide open—simply asking what do you think? What do you want to share with others? What is important to you? Using the language barrier to my advantage, out of necessity I always worked in a partnership with locals while conducting interviews, research and editing.

The resulting responses were varied, yet soon the following themes began to emerge as what was on the mind of Matera, Basilicata:

work (either as a passion, a way to get by, or lack of employment opportunities)

need for sustainable practices

artisanal practices as a source of pride, passion and identity for Matera

culture and identity

individualism versus collective

creativity

tourism alternatives and a sustainable economy

challenges of returning to Matera after time away

accessing local expertise and knowledge that is held by “non-experts”

Matera is much more than the Sassi (historical center of the city)

need for another kind of politics, need to work together

Posted online, the videos were then circulated via social media becoming a way for people to listen to each other, learn from each other, and begin to connect. After 3 months of posting new videos and publicizing portraits regularly on Facebook, the video portraits garnered an audience, with most video portraits being watched on average by 40-50 people and some with as many as 500 viewers. The audience was mainly in Basilicata, but the videos have been watched by people from around the world. The short videos reflect the character, resources, expertise, knowledge, humor, and desires of Basilicata, and have the ability to spark conversations among neighbors while highlighting localized elements of global trends.