Someone Once Told Me (format matters)


Via Sam Easterby-Smith I came across a site called Someone Once Told Me. The idea is simple: the photographer, Mario Cacciottolo, either takes, or gets people to send in, a black and white photograph with the person holding a sign on which is written something someone once told them. It's simple, yet this format throws up a lot of interesting photographs and comments.

I told my daughter about it, and asked her what she would put on a sign. Her instant response was 'It's against the law to sing Christmas songs when it isn't Christmas.' Turns out a friend at school had imparted this piece of knowledge to her, and she had vehemently disagreed with it. I was hoping she would recall one of the many pieces of advice I had given her, but no, this was it. She then wanted to take the photo of course, and today it appeared on the SOTM site.

There are a number of things this brought home to me. The first was participating in sites such as these will become fairly normal for her generation. It is not like appearing on TV. Secondly, this is a good example of a hybrid of expertise and crowd-sourcing. Mario sets up and takes a lot of the photos, but he also gathers them from others (I took our one). This works well both ways.

But most significantly it reveals how a good format helps unleash creativity. There are some very good photos on the site. If they had been given the freedom to take any photo then most wouldn't be as good. The essential paradox is that by limiting scope you encourage creativity. There are lots of such examples around: Carl Morris, a Cardiff acquaintance, runs Sleeveface, where people take photos using album covers to represent faces, and via Gardner Campbell I came across a Flickr group that tells a story in 5 pictures.

I think coming up with such formats, that encourage participation and provide a sufficiently broad, yet narrow, format will be a skill to develop in many sectors.


  • Martin Le Voi

    “The essential paradox is that by limiting scope you encourage creativity. ”
    That’s what some say about Shostakovich, post Lady Macbeth and Stalin’s clampdown. Well… maybe…

  • Martin

    @Martin – yes, that occurred to me too. It’ll be the justification of tyrants everywhere: ‘I was doing it for the artists!’. It’s also seen with censorship – when we couldn’t see sexual scenes film makers invented all sorts of symbolic respresentations, now they just show it. Of course this doesn’t mean censorship is justified, but on a smaller scale providing a format does help people come up with something creative within its confines. It effectively turns it into a game – what can I do with these limitations?

  • Nike Shox TL3

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