The Value Project: Local photographer and Cup-A-Joe barista combines passions in new exhibit

Cup-A-Joe bursts with people, conversation and quick coffee orders every morning, and now features many of those familiar faces in large black and white photographs on the wall – all part of a new project, “The Value Project.”

After almost three years at Cup-A-Joe, barista Bethany Cubino wanted to know more about the lives behind the faces that came in to the coffee shop everyday. The Value Project was created as a way to delve deeper into those lives of people Cubino was serving, to listen to their stories, perspectives, ideas, and mainly, their views of themselves, specifically their personal value. 

As described by Cubino, personal value is the amount of worth one places on themselves, how easily they are able to perceive what their value is to another person, and how they relate to each other.

Deriving inspiration from the Humans of New York, a famous project originally created to showcase the inhabitants of New York through photography, she took the logistics as a base idea and added her own twist. 

“I love the fact that [Humans of New York] talks with people and asks them certain questions,” she said. “But this project is a little bit more about intentionality. I want to go to a place that is unique to them, some place where they feel like themselves, and it might notnecessarily be a place the people around them have seen, a side of them they haven’t seen.”

These places range from one’s studio to another’s farm.

Cubino structures the time with a short photoshoot at the beginning and then a conversation after, sparked with questions about life experiences, views on personal value and what has happened in their lives to shape that view. Most of the subjects are customers at Cup-A-Joe, people Cubino has got to know through her time as a barista and through her time in Hillsborough.

Cubino attended Randolph Community College in Asheboro, studied photography and graduated in 2006. She taught at Orchard Hill Children’s School, a play- and art-based private kindergarten, for seven years under Deborah Pollard and continued photography for the past 10 years on the side.

“[Pollard] taught me not just about teaching but about life in general,” Cubino said. “This segment of the project is actually dedicated to her and the things I learned from her.”

Starting from short interactions filled with curiosity, this long project has come to fruition and Cubino said she is overwhelmed and humbled.

“When I ordered my prints, they came rolled up. I unrolled them and I started crying,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ First of all because they are so large, but also it helped me to remember those moments of intimacy with those people.”

One of her subjects said “the way she feels valued is by being heard,” Cubino said. 

“We are relational beings. I think we were created to want that and desire that, we want to be known by somebody,” she said. “When we’re living life together, it’s just it gets lost sometimes. The importance of relationships and intentionality and caring for each other in those simple ways.

“It has really brought into focus for me that people are so much more than your first impression, they’re so much more than a two minute interaction, they have so much to share,” she continued. “We can learn incredible things by just listening.”

You can find the extended interviews and more photographs on her website at, and on her Instagram @thehillsboroughvalue project.

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