A portrait is a story, and the best portraits capture the entirety of a person’s past and present (perhaps even a glimpse at their future) in a single frame.

Understood this way, Camila Gargantini and her ambitious Birthday Book Project is a storybook, not a book of portraits. If she achieves what she’s aiming for, the final product will be a collection of 366 single-frame birthday stories (one for each day of the year, including February 29th) more revealing than any biography could hope to be.


Camila, herself a 500pxer, understands just how daunting this goal is; but the Brazilian freelance photographer and York University Fine Arts grad isn’t flinching. As she puts it on The Birthday Book Project website:

Everyone is unique in their own right, and our goal and job as photographers is to capture and preserve this uniqueness. Your life, your experiences, your thoughts and your emotions are what define you and make you, you.


We want to collect images and stories that will help us get a better understanding of what birthdays mean for individuals from both a personal and a cultural perspective while allowing collaborators to create images that in turn depict their own perspectives of the world.

Below, Camila has shared the three most memorable portraits she has captured for the project thus far, accompanied by the story behind each photograph. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have!

3 Portraits, 3 Stories

by Camila Gargantini

Julia Nogueira, March 23rd by Camila Gargantini on 500px.com

Coming to Terms with Mortality – Julia Nogueira

The moment I came up with the idea for this project I already knew I had to photograph my grandmother. It was an obvious choice for me. As a photographer, I have come to regret not having documented many moments and people in my life that I wish I had. And for that I knew that photographing my grandmother would be the closest thing I could have to photographing my late mother. 

My grandmother is 90 years old. This photograph was taken 2 days after her 90th birthday. The photo in the frame is of her when she turned 15.
Being there with her was an emotional experience. I had never really posed and photographed any of my Brazilian family members. This was the first time I travelled back there with a purpose related to my career, and that purpose was to create an image that would speak to me and my perception of my own identity and family roots. 

Although I have tried my best to keep the format of my approach similar with all the people I have photographed for the project, there was something very different during my session with her. Her age, her obvious fragility, as well as her forgetful mind constantly reminded me of my own mortality but I pushed through hidden tears and emotions to keep photographing her.
My original vision was very different from the final image. I started by photographing her in my late grandfather’s rocking chair. It was a way for me to keep her comfortable and engaged. After a few clicks, I wasn’t happy with the results. She was more aware of my camera than I hoped for and her obvious discomfort didn’t let me get past that barrier. 

After shooting and interviewing her, I had settled for the images I had taken. While she was making her way from the living room to her bedroom, she stood in front of this picture frame and I asked her to stop. Confused, she obeyed… I quickly moved my light and snapped 4 images. That was it. I knew I had it and I let her go. 

That day she no longer remembered the birthday party we threw for her just 4 days before. That day I captured one of the fondest memories I have of her. 

Justin Broadbent, January 29th by Camila Gargantini on 500px.com

Collaborating with Juxtaposition – Justin Broadbent

Having a Fine Arts background added to my excitement in meeting (and photographing) Justin. I had looked him up a number of times and had become an admirer of his work. And the day we met for the first time, I was a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect, what kind of person he was… if he was going to be nice and easy going or a stuck up artist that is better than everyone else. I was anxious and I tried to keep my cool.

We met at a coffee shop where I told him a bit more about the project and asked him to read the words for his date of birth in The Secret Language of Birthdays book. We chatted about ideas, when and where we could shoot and other details about the project.

Then he asked me something along the lines of “Will you be processing the images in Photoshop? Will you be, like, working on them?” and I curiously responded “Yeah, but I do only minor retouching. I want these to be natural portraits, to show you as an individual. Why do you ask?”. I knew something interesting was coming, I had a feeling. A good feeling… and that was when he went on to explain further the kind of work that he does and how maybe he could draw on the image.

I was so thrilled. In my mind I was like “Really? This cool dude wants to collaborate with me on my portrait of him? What?!?”. I didn’t hesitate a bit.

We met a few days later in his studio and I photographed him in a few different areas. It wasn’t long before I was way too comfortable lying on the floor shooting up while he cuddled his board, made funny faces, stretched and jumped up and down like a kid on a trampoline. I got to see a little into his world and even better, I got to have him draw on my photograph. This final image was better than I could ever have hoped for and I am so grateful I got the chance to collaborate on it with someone so talented like Justin. 

Caro Mangosing, June 8th by Camila Gargantini on 500px.com

Pushing Beyond Comfort – Caro Mangosing

My first interaction with Caro was over a Skype call. Right away Caro struck me as an intelligent woman who likes to get involved in a multitude of things, which made for a very interesting conversation. She shared her career path with me; where she started and where she hoped to be heading next. I was inspired by her versatility and ambition, handling multiple projects and working in a number of different industries.

One thing that slightly freaked me out was that Caro used to be a fashion photographer, and I am pretty sure I am not the only one that feels a little anxious about photographing other photographers. I think we get so caught up in our own minds and expectations of our work that when we shoot someone who knows exactly what goes into it, we feel a bit pressured to be our best.

Caro suggested the idea of getting a friend of her involved… Jodee, a Set and Wardrobe Stylist, and I was like, “Sure! Why not?”. To be very honest, while that was super exciting, deep down inside I was a bit freaked out. Could I pull it off? Caro went on to explain to me that all these years she always avoided getting in front of the camera in which she would be the main attraction… but this time she wanted to give herself the chance to stand out, to do something that had meaning to her, so I let her take full control of what the location and the set would be. She collaborated with Jodee and I was there to take the photos. 

I had a blast! This shoot was different from my usual shoots. There were many layers to the set and the production that went into it, and I was so happy with the results. The image I had in mind was dark but with hints of light highlighting different areas of the photo but focusing the attention on Caro.

Although, her dogs were not the most welcoming at first within the tight space were working in, and one of my strobes decided not to work, I’m glad I pushed myself to keep going—her request was for her photograph to look like a painting, and we achieved exactly that. Now more than ever I feel more confident about my skills and am grateful for the experience.

The Birthday Book Project is not done yet. Still in the photographing stage, Camila and her team have about 60 portraits left to capture before they can move into the production phase and make the photo book a glossy reality.

If you’d like to participate and live in Toronto, Mexico City, London-UK, Ottawa, Edmonton, or Calgary, click here and fill out a request to participate! Camila will follow up with you and let you know if your birthday is available.

To learn more about The Birthday Book Project, visit the project’s website, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account.