For my project “The World I See,” I have gone to 19 countries in the last 12 months and walked up to strangers to ask for their photograph. In the beginning, I was just walking up to people, getting their photographs, and then walking away.
The initial idea was to just show people how beautiful the world is, just as it is (I almost never pose people or change the situation at all, I just explore cities and towns until I see people in beautiful pictures).
While in Milan, I was photographing the refugees outside the train station and had a moment that changed the entire direction of the trip. I asked a gentleman for his photograph and he originally said no. But I was persistent, as I knew it was a gorgeous picture and wanted to show it to him. So, he finally changed his mind and said ‘Okay, you can take my picture.’
I took the photograph and went up to show him the picture on the back of my camera. He slowly took the camera from me and, with tears in his eyes, said ‘No one has ever asked to take my picture before.’
I knew right then how much bigger it was than just a picture right there, and I made it a point from there to have a conversation with each person and let them know that I see them. The moments got more and more beautiful and the conversations got deeper, the more comfortable I got. And it ended up changing my life, and many others, in the process as we just shared in each other’s lives together.
Cuba was the 19th country in this project and I spent February exploring and living with locals across from the North all the way to the South. It was an absolutely stunning country, complete with such an authentic character that was rough around the edges, yet powerful and unique. And the entire country is like it froze in time in the 50s. Old cars, old architecture, and a rich history. And very few people have phones or computers, so the cities are loud as everyone is outdoors and talking/singing/playing.
I was sponsored by ROW Adventures, a local business in my hometown, to travel across the country with no plans, and just get to know people and get their stories. In Cuba, they have what’s called “casa particulares“, which means that any home that has a blue anchor on it — you can knock on the door and ask to stay there. Sometimes, you would have an entire place to yourself and other times you would live with a person or family.
When you lived with a family, you could pay $5 and they would cook you breakfast, lunch, or dinner and it would create for rich experiences where you had homemade food with the families themselves.
When out on the street, I would just approach people, strike up a conversation, and ask for their photograph.
Here’s a TEDx Talk I gave in October 2019 about the project, which was also published twice in National Geographic in the first 12 months:
About the author: Adam Schluter is an award-winning photographer who’s traveling the globe to ask strangers for photographs. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website.