Q&A with Nora Canellakis

A Conversation with PhotovoiceWorldwide’s Newest Intern

Nora Canellakis graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Spanish in May of 2020. We recently sat down with Nora to talk about her interests, views, and aspirations, as well as to learn about her experience taking PVWW’s seminal course, “Talking with Pictures.”

PVWW: You majored in anthropology, so you are obviously interested in people. How do you see this fitting in with your work at PVWW?

NK: Yes, I love people and find the study of the worlds of humans fascinating, be it cultural, linguistic, biological, or archaeological. I have found that my studies in anthropology have tied in well with the mission that PVWW seeks to accomplish. In particular, my background in visual ethnography falls right in line with photovoice’s work to provide individuals with cameras to be able to document and uncover the truths embedded in their own lives. In my studies my professor would always say, if only there were a way to provide the tools of the colonizer to those colonized themselves, hinting at the regrettable roots of the discipline of anthropology. I think the fact that photovoice does just that is essential. As a visual methodology, it provides tools and a space for people to share their experience and create social change. As a lover of photography, with an interest in people and a passion for learning and social justice, photovoice provides me with the opportunity to be able to meld these interests, to learn more about the lives of others, and to advocate for its use across social media platforms.

PVWW: I understand you are an avid writer. What is your favorite genre and why?

NK: I have always loved writing stories since I was a little kid. My mom is a writer, and I suppose taking after her I have a passion for writing fiction and autobiographical narratives based on everyday experience. I love the ability that words have to paint vibrant images and scenes. The use of fun descriptors to convey the sensory details of a space. I enjoy words that communicate experiences of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. In essence, I enjoy the ability of words to transport readers into their imagined scenery and to express lived experience. 

PVWW: What is the last book you read, and what did it teach you?

NK: I dove into The Twilight Saga novels a few months ago. The release of a new book, Midnight Sun, by Stephanie Meyer, prompted me to reread the series. I am just finishing the last novel, Breaking Dawn. It has inspired me to marvel at the power of narration to transport readers to fictitious worlds, and the depth of detail that can be provided to breathe life into that reality. It reminds me to believe in the power of imagination to surpass boundaries, and to create the magic in our everyday lived experience.  

PVWW: You are of Greek heritage, and have visited Greece multiple times with your family. How has that changed or add to your worldview?

NK: My family heritage adds to my understanding of myself, my cultural identity as a whole, and has enriched my understanding of the diversity that exists in our world. As a half-Greek American, when I was young, I would travel to Greece every other summer to visit my paternal grandfather who lived in Galatas. My Greek heritage has shaped who I am today. During my trips there I was able to get a taste of life in the Peloponnese, and to carry shells back with me to remember the beaches. My grandmother would always say that language is a window into a culture, and I truly believe it is. Fluency in Spanish, acquired during my study abroad in Spain, allowed me to become fully immersed in Spanish customs and way of life while living in Salamanca, Spain. Interacting with global cultures in my family travels and studies has allowed me to understand and cultivate an appreciation for the beauty of the diverse identities that make up our world today. Because of this I see myself as a global citizen, and I enjoy engaging with friends from all over the world.

Nora and her family on one of their trips to Greece

PVWW: What inspired you to pursue an internship at PhotovoiceWorldwide, and what do you hope to get out of it?

NK: My best friend growing up, Carson Peters, a former PhotovoiceWorldwide intern, recommended that I, with my love of visual arts and photography, apply, and I am so happy she did! I feel so fortunate to have come across PhotovoiceWorldwide! I hope to continue to develop the skills I have cultivated in my undergraduate studies, in a career environment. I hope to be an activist for social change, raising awareness of relevant issues, and to work in visual storytelling. I’m happy to be a part of the team!

PVWW: You recently completed the course Talking with Pictures. What did you enjoy most about the course, and what was your greatest takeaway?

NK: Yes, I did complete Talking with Pictures! I really enjoyed the content of the course, and to be able to study the theoretical underpinnings of photovoice and its original use among women in Yunnan Province, China, to effect policy change. I enjoyed how the course assignments allowed us to act as participants in the photovoice model, using photographs and captions to convey experience literally and symbolically. I enjoyed learning about how photovoice can be used to support individuals with disabilities and those recovering from traumatic brain injury. Additionally, I enjoyed Laura’s teaching style, the variety of tools and resources she shared as a complement to the methodology, and the way in which she integrated personal experience into each lesson so that the information went beyond the classroom. I loved the opportunity to be able to share a learning space with individuals from around the world, to hear their experience, and see how they were able to adapt the photovoice methodology to their project of interest.

PVWW: Are you considering graduate school? If so, what academic field would you choose, and why?

NK: I am considering graduate school. Particularly I am interested in attending a cinematic arts program that specializes in digital content creation for documentary storytelling. I think the power of images to convey stories is infinite, and it is an essential skill to have. I think that a visual arts-based program would provide me with the flexibility, structure, and tools to be able to create content to share experience, educate others, and tell stories. I enjoy the medium of film. It would be an exciting experience to develop these interests further in an academic setting, and use images to highlight awareness for themes such as environmental activism, sustainability, gender, identity, and animal welfare.