What Does The Last Photo You Took Say About Where You Live?

Ivan Cash travels from city to city and asks to see the most recent photo on strangers’ phones. Between all the random selfies, a unique sense of place emerges.

For the last couple of years, artist and filmmaker Ivan Cash has walked up to strangers on the street asking a simple but fairly revealing question: What’s the last photo on your phone? After traveling to places like New York and London, and inspiring copycat projects in places like Curitiba, Brazil and Seoul, he recently ended up in Detroit and Chicago.


“I’m less interested in the photo itself and more fascinated by the backstory–what the photo symbolizes for someone or how it’s emotionally charged,” Cash says. “And to me this is in some way influenced based by what city they’re living in and the culture of that city.”

While every city has its share of smartphones filled with selfies and pet photos, there’s also something recognizably unique about each location that these videos reveal.

Here’s Detroit:

“In Detroit, I witnessed firsthand the progress and shameless sense of optimism held by its residents,” Cash says. “This manifested in almost every interview I had in that city. People might not have much in Detroit but I could feel their sense of hope and pride, and their investment in their city’s resurgence.”

In Chicago, he noticed that people were more open to talking–possibly a Midwestern thing–but also less willing to really open up–also possibly a Midwestern thing.

Cash spent three days in each city, and says that the project helped him get a better sense of both places than he otherwise would have. “Sometimes it can feel limiting in how deeply one is able to connect with a new city or region in just a few days,” he says. “It’s so easy to just get swept up in the momentum of tourist attractions and museums and hotels. Talking to people on the street as I travel through this project is a way for me to connect with that city and its real, non-curated culture in the deepest possible way in the shortest amount of time.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.