Someone Once Told Me

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One day, some time in September 2006, I thought of an idea. I'm naturally nosey, and I thought of getting people to choose one thing they'd been told, just one thing out of everything to have passed by their ears, and having them write those words down on a big sheet of paper.

The point of it all was for the subject to be photographed with the words of others, and to reveal what impact those words had on them. And, hopefully, on those who came across the photograph.

I then thought of putting these images, and the stories behind who told each subject their written quote, on a website. After thinking about it some more, I decided to post one a day. And that's what I did, from 8 September 2007 until 11 October 2014. I never missed a single day.

This led, as you can imagine, to some right old adventures. These included visiting students in north Wales on the basis of a single email, talking at WomenÕs Institute meetings filled with 30-something females, and going to erotic blogger meet ups which involved a bit of nudity and some groping (not for me, sadly).

I even travelled to Los Angeles to stay with a man I didn't know who, I discovered upon my arrival, slept with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire next to his bed.

It was called Kindness and, according to Jeff, my host, "if anyone from out there breaks in here, I can say (pause for effect) I killed them with kindness".

He turned out be a nice chap in the end, and Kindness went back into the cupboard.

Providing an image a day was quite an undertaking, and to keep SOTM going I embarked upon several years of manic work, often as much as a part time job, on top of my actual job as a journalist for the BBC.

I went to parties the night before I had to get up early for work, visited PR offices (who generally loved the idea) and worked there solidly for hours taking pictures, took any invite to any kind of cultural event regardless of where it was in the country. I also embraced the rise of social media because it became an easy way of tapping people on the shoulder and asking if they'd pose for me.

Somehow, I kept getting enough images to post one every day. There wasn't a person I knew who I hadn't asked to take part. I didn't take one every day, I loaded seven into the website's content management system on a Friday, and they automatically appeared at 6am GMT each day.

Then, after doing this sort of thing for a few years, I decided to take SOTM on a self-funded trip around the world, using a career break from work. This was quite an odyssey in itself, as you can imagine.

You can read my various posts about that incredible experience by clicking on the Blog link at the top of the page.

In the time prior to the trip, and during it, I always said that I'd come back and use up all the images before ending the website with my own, which I only did in the summer of 2014. And that's exactly what I've done.

Now it's all over, I'll miss SOTM very, very much. But, as a samurai expression goes, the end is important in all things. I originally intended to run SOTM for 365 days - in the end, it ran for 2,591. So I did pretty well on that front.

Time and again, when I approached people and explained the premise of SOTM, they agreed to take part, and then said they'd never told anyone that story before. This happened a lot, and to this day I'm not sure why they chose to reveal their hidden stories to me, a stranger who put these personal experiences on the internet, for anyone to see. Maybe I accidentally helped to make them feel better about something that had once affected them.

But reveal them they did, and in enough numbers to make SOTM interesting, and to achieve a bit of a cult following.

I regard SOTM as a resounding success, due to the huge amount of effort I put in, along with people's willingness to think about their own experiences and to share one that meant something to them, whether it was serious or silly, profound or profane.

I made lots of friends through taking photos for this site, went to Las Vegas and Parisian cafes and Korean schools and pub quizzes in Melbourne, among lots of other places I might not have visited otherwise, all as a result of my drive to meet strangers and persuade them to tell me something from their lives.

There are things I didn't achieve with it. Despite being signed up by a literary agent in New York, no publisher ever wanted to turn the idea into print. That was always a bit of a disappointment, and although I've long talked about self-publishing a book myself, I don't seem to have the energy right now. Maybe in future.

I did receive some publicity from the media on a few occasions, particularly on the SOTM World Tour, and I enjoyed being on the other side of the interview process for a change.

And my work in carrying out the idea did get me into the arms of pretty girls on a small number of occasions, which was very pleasant. For a while, I even thought it had led me to my future wife, but sadly that ultimately proved not to be true. But that experience, as with the rest of SOTM, taught me a lot about myself, so everything I learned through this project was a lesson ultimately worth having.

So now it's all over, I'll miss SOTM more than I can say. For seven years I've made sure to have some time on a Friday, so that I could upload the website's images for the coming week. Fridays now are free, and that's something which will take time for me to get used to. I'm not sure I ever will.

I have been asked several times why I'm ending SOTM. I guess that while I will always be madly in love with it, and hugely proud of it, IÕm just tired. I've worked harder on this than on anything else in my life. It's the entity towards which I've shown the most loyal amount of commitment. Which perhaps isn't an entirely positive fact, but it is a truth nonetheless.

It's certainly been initially for my own satisfaction, but all the while I hoped it provided something for others to enjoy, or think about at least. It's also cost me several thousand pounds over the years, what with the site's construction, travel expenses and the app which donates its small profits to the Operation Smile charity.

But SOTM will never go away - after my image going up last of all, it's now looping around forever, among the huge archive I built up over eight years of the idea. Seven years and a month of that overall time were spent with the site being live with fresh content.

Thanks to everyone who's ever contributed, either through posing for a photo or by visiting the site, or just by telling me you thought it was great. I really loved hearing that my little idea had actually resonated with a few other people.

Also a massive thanks to the web developer Max Hoy, who became my friend and without whom SOTM would not have lasted so long, worked so well or looked so good.

If SOTM has taught me one thing above all, it's that words have a power, and we should be very careful how we use them. A throwaway comment can mean so much, or too little, and you many never even realise what you said.

So be careful, and choose your words kindly.

Mario Cacciottolo
October 2014