Art

Spreading the WORD

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Spreading the WORDRyan LaFever is documenting The Word Project - All photos courtesy Ryan LaFever
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Ryan LaFever has been thinking about The Word Project for a long time, since he was a student at CCAD (that’s Columbus College of Art and Design)…

If you were going to express yourself with a single word, what would that word be?

What would a photo collection of people with their respective words look like?

Life and other projects came along, and so The Word Project was sidelined. Until the pandemic. LaFever explains, “I found myself with a lot more time on my hands, a lot more reflection. I started thinking about older ideas and what might be feasible and worth doing.”

Ryan LaFever

He concluded, “The Word Project was doable and has a message, it gives others a chance to express themselves, and serves as a kind of social experiment.” And so it began.  

LaFever put out a request on social media for connections to write a word, using any medium they wish, and then, one by one, he took their pictures with the selected words; some written on paper, or a box or a rock.

Since its debut, the project has grown well outside LaFever’s social media connections. He finds himself meeting new people on a regular basis, and taking photos in sometimes unusual environments selected by subjects. Settings have included a torrential downpour.

“Perhaps despite our better judgment, we persevered through it,” he says. “We could have rescheduled but the person was enthusiastic enough to be taking part and we just decided we could make it work in the rain.”

Columbus resident, Deirdre Pifer chose the word “Draw.”  The reasons behind it are thoughtful. 

“I chose the word “Draw” as a goal word,” she explains. “If I could have used two words I would have said ‘Draw Everything.’ Drawing is peaceful, meditative, creative, mindful. My “draw” will be someone else’s ‘write,’ ‘act’ or ‘sing’…It’s an action word, a creative word.”

LaFever says that people choose words for lots of different reasons.

”It’s been interesting to hear people explain their thought process for their word and how they choose to pose for the photo,” he says. “People have gone with their favorite word, or the word they feel best describes their personality, or the word that best describes their role in life.”

He views participants in the The Word Project not as subjects, but as collaborators. So, he shows them the photos he takes, and they decide together whether they’ve got the right match for the word. Even those outside the project can participate as viewers. Viewing participants can ask themselves, ‘What kinds of conclusions can I draw about this person from the word they chose?

Deirdre Pifer

So where’s The Word Project going? Once he hits 250 photos, LaFever’s planning a coffee table book, or perhaps an exhibition. LaFever would love to see it replicated in another context saying, ”Other photographers could carry on with this project in different cities and regions with all different people from different walks of life. This project here represents what people in Central Ohio have to say, but what about in New York or L.A.? What kind of words would people there say?”


If you’d like to share your word with the world, you can check out LaFever’s website for details stuffryandoes.org. There are a few rules: the word has to have a Google result, and it can’t be hyphenated; no proper nouns. Other than that, anything goes! You can reach him directly via email at [email protected] with “Word” in the subject line.

All photos courtesy Ryan LaFever

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