“After moving from Alabama to Italy, I quickly became aware of the missing pieces in the mental picture that I began building of my new home,” says Cocoa Laney, recounting the difficulty of puzzling together minimal information in a new place. The more time she spent in her new city, the more she understood the weight of cultural barriers on her own understanding. She explains, “As I became increasingly familiar with the city, I started to realize there was an essential part of its identity that I couldn’t comprehend without being able to speak the language.”

5. © Cocoa Laney. 3rd place, Series, LensCulture
Street Photography Awards 2018.

Despite these barriers, Laney quickly found that her mental abstractions could be visually communicated by photographing her surroundings, and the subjects in her resulting images are never quite complete—their faces are blocked through lighting, reflections, and other natural obstructions.

The absence of this crucial information is a metaphor for the “gaps” in her own understanding.

1. © Cocoa Laney. 3rd place, Series, LensCulture
Street Photography Awards 2018.

The practice of photographing this lack of information is comforting for the photographer, and has ultimately helped her articulate the challenges she has faced. She explains, “Filling in the blank spaces in my comprehension of Italian language and culture is a slow and daunting process, but by documenting the experience, I am giving shape to both the closeness I feel to Florence and the barriers I have yet to overcome.”

—Cat Lachowskyj

Cocoa Laney’s series “Gaps” was the third prize winner in our Street Photography Awards 2018. Explore work by all 39 of the winners, finalists, and jurors’ picks.