During our own lives, we watch an uncountable number of people passing us by. And, from them, we always take a vague trace of their inner battles. Mankind are always those who aren't close to us, more distant than the others, and the human being will always be some kind of rhetoric question that moves us everyday, building our individuality and becoming each of us unique.
This Mankind is made by body actions, soul actions, emotions, reason, taboos... Death is, by far, the biggest of these taboos, at the same time that is something which puts us all together. Everything revolves around it and the cosmic desire of subjugating it. Medicine, resistance about aging, and even chastity in front of the term are irrefutable proofs of this whole picture.
However, the taboo is incorporeal and pure reason dictates its insubstantiality. And we move forward... What make some people more aware of their own mortality than others? What motivates people to take action in their lives? What values do we hold as a society? And what values do other societies around the world find important?
Searching an answer to those questions, Nicole Kennedy and K.S. Rives, both American citizens, shaped the "Before I die I want to..." project, an incredible social initiative inspired by three simple factors.
The first of them is the announced Polaroid 'death' (which was back in 2010) and the digital photograph sovereignty. The second, a psychologist's tool called 'safety contracts', used with suicide patients and which implies in the promise of themselves to remain in security until the professional help comes. This stamps the understanding that someone cares about and allots their suffering. The hope is that this project works in the same way... And the third -- the last and most important factor -- the passion for people... Half a cultural study, half an encouragement mechanism, this initiative makes the reflection about the individual priorities a motor of a plural personal development.
The creative process is simple...Keeping their Polaroid machines always close, Nicole and K.S. take instant pictures anywhere they go. People are the focus, and, while they're pictured, they answer questions about what they would like to do before dying, impelling them to fix at their ultimate desire; after that, they're asked to materialize it, writing it at the picture they just had taken, starting by the words that titles the project: before I die I want to...
Left picture: I want to pray with my whole soul (so this is my last reincarnation). // Right picture: Before I die I want to make films to highlight human sufferings. Want to serve humanity through cinema.
Left picture: Before I die I want to have a house. // Right picture: I want to die before my husband dies.
On a last moment, artists ask that people add their emails also... The aim is, years later -- five, ten, twenty years later -- the participants can be contacted in order to discover if they achieved their aims, if they are at the right way, or why they aren't if they didn't achieved them yet. At this point, it will be ask that they write a little story joined to their photography at the website about their journey, hoping that the vision of other people who made their dreams come true motive the other participants on accomplish the commitment they've made, more than with the artists, with themselves, impelling them also to write their own story.
After hundreds of Polaroid pics took in USA, Nicole and K.S. decided to amplify the horizons of the project, turning it into the direction of a whole different culture. From January to March 2009, they traveled throughout India, asking the same question, as always. Taking advantage of a society of extremes, they included at the initiative a big variety of people. They photographed rich and poor people, young and old people, city or countryside people, travelers, executives, beggars, saint men, actors and even a bride at her wedding's day. They took pictures at each visited place, establishing communication through local translators and touristic guides...
The comparison between the desires of people in India with the rest of the world was the target. The differences didn't take a long time to appear: vision of death, ability of dreaming, and individualism vs. sense of community were the highlights.
Left picture: I want to be a teacher. // Right picture: I want to feel I've made a valuable contribution... Before I die.
Left picture: I want best wishes for my children - they can study more + more, make their prosperity, make good will + good impressions on the world. // Right picture: Before I die I want to study.
In America, the contact with death makes people feel uncomfortable, as the taboo is revealed: they are not prepared for their death, or for those who are closely around them. On a total different way, for Indians, death and its acceptance are integrant part of life. Lots of them thought even what to say at this final moment. What can it portrait about both people?
On other hand, the individualism in America is clear. Everybody is created for originality, for an individual life. In India, people are raised at dense communities where the values of happiness and comfort of the others are preserved. While many Indians presented the same answer to the question, the American presented another path.
It's also evident that, in India, the ability of dreaming is almost inexistent, as they live the present: the needs are working, putting food at the table and caring about their families. The dimension of the question got a hard understanding during many times. The conclusion the artists took, crossing this reality with the American dream, is that dream and projection of future arises with the financial stability.
Nevertheless, and although the seminal differences, there's something in common with Americans and Indians, rich or poor... The major part of people wants to do something before dying. There were few people who affirmed they had made everything, or that they don't feel the need of doing nothing.
The future of the project is exploring more and more realities and cultures, from people in the third world to developed countries, rural or city zones, schools and third-age houses and even the death row and hospices. Especially these last two communities face death from a point of view unimaginable to common people.
Few initiatives have such strong, special and altruistic pillars. To participate of the project, get inspired or help others to focus at their aims and persist at their accomplishment, just go to the project official website and send your own photograph, make a donation or buy one of the books fulfilled with Polaroid pics and dreams, whose profits totally change into buying charge to the machines.
We live at a lent time... What do you want to do before dying?