Thousand Words: The Eyes of Italy

The inspiration behind Columbus’s cross-continental photo project.

Our image is about to go global. Actually, our images.

Inspired by a city welcoming of his hometown (Columbus sister city Genoa) Italian photographer Emanuele Timothy Costa will not only display his own Thousand People photo exhibit, but will also capture Columbus citizens in his time here.

The exhibit, which will run through April 9 in various Columbus landmarks from the CMA to John Glenn Airport to Franklin Park Conservatory, features the people of Genoa Costa has immortalized in his unique hyper-lit pop-up approach.

While here, he will then begin a new chapter of the Thousand People, taking photographs of the people in the central Ohio area—whose photos will be displayed next year in an exhibit in Genoa.

“When I visited Columbus in 2016, I was impressed by the diversity of the city,” Costa said. “Often, we become so consumed by our own lives that we miss the opportunity to meet the eyes of the people we pass, possibly missing a connection that could change our lives. Thousand People of Columbus will allow the community to discover themselves and show their unique personality to the rest of the world.”

In that vein, we wanted to show you Costa’s unique personality before you get to see his work via our own photographer Megan Leigh Barnard. Here he is, shot for shot:

What inspired you about Columbus and this project?

The fact that people overseas knew my town and kept such a long relation with us was for me very interesting. Then, when I visited I understood how much the two cities have in common and how much they need to know each other better.

How did you meet/choose your subjects?

I stand in front of my light system looking for people that catch my attention. At that point, I ask them to pose for few shots. But vice versa, the people that are interested in what I do spontaneously ask me what I’m doing and have something interesting to share.

Are there any stories from your shoots that have stuck with you?

I [photograph] over 5,000 single people, so there are many. The most interesting ones arrives from older people—homeless, immigrants—experiences that you hardly can understand because they are so unique and personal.

What’s a piece of must-have gear you bring to every shoot?

I love portrait, as you know, and I want to get closer and intimate and catch all the details of my subject, so my 50mm lens is always with me.

When approaching a portrait, what emotions or state of being is ideal for your work?

I make 4-5 shots for each subject; not many. This is because I want a natural photo—not an artificial one. And in 85 percent of the case[s], while I’m back in my studio for post-production, I choose the first one. It’s the most natural. The subject had no time to act and change himself.

Do you remember the moment you first fell in love with photography?

I was in a sailboat with friends. One of them [had] a camera; I asked to try. After 15 minutes, I was already at the top of the mast trying to get the best shot.

How do  you approach asking people if you can take their portrait? What has the overall response been?

At the beginning, I got more “no” than “yes.” Then I understood there is a technique also for that. First: never hold something in your hands—the subject probably thinks you want to sell or [have them] sign something. Then go straight to the point: Can I take your picture?

How does it feel seeing your work in print, hung in a gallery for all to see?

The print, it’s the final natural process of photography. Having them in digital is not the same. When I first saw 2,000 eyes looking at me, I was proud of my work.

What advice would you give to a young photographer who wants to create an inspiring collection like yours?

You have to understand what you like. Try to see other photographers’ jobs and feel what for you is good and what you don’t like. When you have understood it, work on it, and make your own way to see the world.

To participate in this program, please visit, or contact Sister Cities Program Manager Sameen Dadfar at 614-230-8590.