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 sound. Working in broadcast media I became disillusioned with the power of media to affect real change 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 practices. This led to an experiment in using the camera for beginning meaningful conversations. A method for 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 the city.

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The video portraits were a collaboration with people from Matera and the surrounding Basilicata region. In partnership 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.

The initial invitation for a one-minute interaction often led to much longer conversations which were not recorded. What happened before and after the camera was recording became another way of connecting. 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 and mapped onto the neighborhoods of the city, the videos circulated via social media becoming a way for people to listen to each other, learn from each other, and begin to connect. 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.