Someone Once Told Me
An interview with Mario Cacciottolo
At gapyear.com we're always on the look out for people who have done something different in life. Well let us introduce you to Mario Cacciottolo.
He's a BBC journalist, but that's not the interesting bit. What's interesting is the fact that he set up his own website called Someone Once Told Me, a social project to bring an ounce of happiness to people's lives.
Since he first set up Someone Once Told Me (SOTM) in 2007, it has grown from strength to strength, now with thousands of photos and personal stories. The concept is simple: you tell Mario your secret, your "someone once told me..." You write it down and he snaps you looking all happy or sad. And you're done. Simple, isn't it?
We thought we'd chat to Mario to find out exactly what SOTM is all about and what his plans are in the future...
Where did first get the idea of Someone Once Told Me (SOTM)?
I was sent an email in which someone paid me a small compliment. As is often the case, I decided to think about it a little for the rest of the day, so as to keep my spirits up and generate a positive frame of mind. That's something I do a lot. But for some reason, on that particular day, it started me thinking about what individuals choose to recall from their lives and, of all the things they ever hear, what they regard as memorable. And I thought how great it would be to get them to choose just one memorable thing that they've been told in their lives, presenting it in a written form for a photograph. Someone Once Told Me was born, in my head at least, and I thought of the whole thing, including the site design and extra bits and pieces, in seven minutes.
What's your best SOTM photo / story?
There are obviously a fair few that I'm quite fond of. But actually the one I keep returning to is one from a young woman in America whose SOTM is "I Just Don't Like You As Much Anymore". She was told that by her college boyfriend and it's a self portrait by the looks of it. Her face is the very definition of sorrow, it's a very powerful image and story. I've been told that before myself so I could empathise with her. I've always wondered what's happened to her since she submitted her SOTM.
What's your own SOTM?
I am currently compiling a shortlist. I hope to go around the world for much of next year, to take SOTM on the road, and I'll add to that shortlist as I meet people in lots of different countries. When I do come back and choose my own SOTM, I'm going to have it tattooed onto myself. As for my very own SOTM photo, that will be the last one that ever goes up on the site, so I hope that I don't have to do that for a few years yet.
Have you ever found it hard to approach people? Do you think it's always given you something to talk about while travelling?
I've never found it a problem to approach people. The whole point of my project is to meet people and find out something about them. SOTM is a great ice breaker for sure, and I've always found that travellers are willing to talk about their experiences. In fact, I went travelling round India before the SOTM site was even built, so I had nothing tangible to show people, and yet I got 88 people to take part, mostly fellow travellers. It was then that I knew I was going to be able to get people to participate in this idea of mine.
Do you think it's changed your life?
It has totally, utterly changed the course of my life forever. My life will never be the same again. It's changed how I think, how I plan things and increased my confidence still further. I'd spent my life up until the point of SOTM cursing the fact that I'm not talented, that I can't do anything, that I can't paint or sing or play an instrument. So the fact that I've created a website that's survived for so long and has seen my photography skills improve from terrible to competent is a source of constant joy to me.
Where are you going on your gap year?
Where am I not going? I plan to go around the world. I'm hoping to touch Europe, South Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia, the Far East, Australia, maybe South America and then lots of time in North America. I'll be looking for two things - interesting communities to visit for SOTM, and people who can put me up so as to keep my costs down. And I'd take their photos too of course.
What are you most looking forward to doing?
There's a few interesting communities that I'm hoping to access. There are people in the Philippines who live in a cemetery as they have no other shelter, and I'd like visit them. I also hope to go into townships in South Africa. Also, I'm really looking forward to travelling round the United States as I always get a good reception from Americans about SOTM.
What are you hoping to get out of it?
It will change my life again, really, so I'm open to embracing all the exciting experiences that it will bring. I'm sure I'll make new friends out if it, and will hear some incredible personal stories too, which is the best part of SOTM for me. But above all I'd like to photograph at least 1,000 people, which will secure SOTM's future for about another three years.
What are your five top tips for anyone attempting to start their own quirky website?
- Embrace social media and use it to get your message out.
- Make sure it looks good, as people want to see something that looks like it's been done properly.
- Get a backlog of material together before you go live, so you have plenty to work from.
- Make sure your family / friends know about the site and will give you the time and space to work obsessively on it, especially in the early stages.
- Most importantly of all - do it for yourself. Don't do it because you think it'll make you money, because it probably won't and if that's your sole aim then it'll look like it. If you do it for yourself, with your own passion driving the whole thing forward, then the site will look like a labour of love, which is the best look of all.
What's been your most inspiring country that you've travelled to?
I'm rather biased as I'm half Maltese - but the history of Malta is the best in the world. It's got some of the most incredible stories in the history of the human race, all on a lump of rock that's smaller than the Isle of Wight.
What's the most fun thing you've done on the road?
Gone on a road trip to Vegas from Los Angeles. Even the fact that the car stereo was broken didn't dampen our spirits. We decided to play 'Punch Yellow Car' but I had to stop as I was brilliant at it and was simply beating the crap out of everyone. I took one look at the surrounding desert and decided it wouldn't be good to annoy my new friends so much.
What three items would you have on a desert island?
A camera, poker player / model Liv Boeree (she could bring a poker set) and a solar-powered iPod.
What's number one on your bucket list?
Photograph the Dalai Lama for SOTM.
If you're interested in learning a little more about Mario then head over to his website Someone Once Told Me.