Assignment four: Responding to a theme

Assignment Brief:

In this assignment, you’re going to work in response to a theme. A theme is more nuanced and you can bring your own personal interpretation to it because you’ll have your own experiences, thoughts, and feelings about it. Responding to a theme photographically will help you to elicit your own ideas and make them visual. If you want to set yourself your own theme, that’s fine. Otherwise, choose from this list:

• Domestic • Power struggle • Pause • The unbearable lightness of being.

For this assignment create a series of 3-5 still-life photographs based on a theme. To accompany your photograph, write approximately one-page of text explaining: • your theme • your choice of background, objects and subjects • the visual and conceptual reasons behind these choices • your choice of light and/or time of day • how you think the objects interact to give the viewer the impression you want them to have. Send your final image(s) and your text to your tutor.


My approach: Still life was a completely new and unexplored territory for me – one that had to be very carefully looked at in order to understand its nuances. I struggled with it to begin with but more or less began to understand it somewhat along the way. It was good learning for me once I got down to it. As I approached the final assignment though, I somehow had a hard time deciding upon a subject that will satisfy my creative ideas. Ideas were many but nothing came to my mind despite my genuine concern to getting down to it. After attempting one of the previous exercises called “Emulation” I was at least sure that I wanted to choose either a vegetable or a fruit for my final choice of subject. Well, to cut a long story short, I wasted a lot of time trying to find a subject that will speak to me. Many visits to the vegetable market followed to no avail. I even experimented with a few trying to get my theme across but nothing exceptional happened. Everything left me disappointed and feeling that I haven’t been able to do justice to it.

My search finally ended the day a piece of Thai ginger spoke to me from the imported goods section of the market. I had finally found the object and it literally spoke to me like I had wished all along. So here it is, my subject and I, taking you through a sequence called “Domestic violence”, starring a non-domestic central character.

My theme is nothing new; rather it is something which is, on the contrary, a smaller part of a much larger theme – crimes against women. Domestic violence is something that is not only commonplace in my country but on the increase. India is now termed to be one of the most unsafe places on the planet for women with crimes like eve-teasing, molestation, child-marriages, acid –attacks, revenge-killings, honor-killings, and rapes, at an all-time high.


Final Series:


I have chosen 7 images for my final series. I will try and explain each one of them with a caption to make it easier for the viewer to understand each one of them.

The woman – the subject of the abuse
The fear – In this image, through the eye, I have tried to portray the constant fear that these subjects live under.
The cries of mercy – In this image, I have shown the subject after being abused and its agonizing cries.
The physical wounds – I have tried to compare the knots on the ginger to the physical wounds on the body.
Psychological Impact – The frayed edges of the ginger are representative of the frail mind and the deep and agonizing impact of consistent abuse on the psyche of the victim.
The final moments – this image is representative of the subject that is violated, tortured and abused, in their final moments of giving up on life.
Death – finally an end, representative of the hundreds of victims of domestic violence, who either give up on life by committing suicide or succumb to the constant abuse they are subjected to.

The reason I chose Thai ginger as my object for my theme was that it had everything that I was looking for to convey in my end story. It was an interesting shape, a one close to a living being, though a lot of vegetables have some likeness to human forms when we start looking at it, this one, in particular, had the exact multi-dimensionality that I was seeking. An interesting and unusual shape, multi-layered, areas of interest and a likeness to not exactly a human form, but a kind of an alien-form, which was good enough to be used for my subject, a subject of domestic violence, who by the end of it is left so disfigured that it’s hard to tell if they are human at all. All in all, it seemed perfect for what I wanted to portray.

I chose to use a 105mm macro lens for this as I didn’t want to show images that were tack-sharp and focused. I wanted to show a level of abstract – of the object merging with the background or seemingly emerging out of it. I have kept the object inside a white cube to cut out all other background and have used a single source of diffused light. I chose this to show that there is no time of the day or night for these crimes. Domestic violence is something that is meted out at a woman for no fault of hers and irrespective of the time.

Through the positioning of the ginger in various ways and zooming in and emphasizing certain areas, I have tried to depict an entity, its fear, its cries for mercy, its wounds, the psychological impact and its eventual death. The shape of the object in question is ideal as it hints at a living form and has many layers and protrusions, along with textures that add and build up to my story. I have kept this story consciuosly in monochrome as there is little colour in the lives of the victim.

31 Replies to “Assignment four: Responding to a theme”

  1. I really like this Archna and the text really helped. I love the non-distracting background and lighting and the blurred background allowing the viewer’s focus to be where you have decided it needs to be.

    I think the series is good but in particular I like these three images and I will try to say for why.

    Cries of mercy – The vertical parts of the ginger seem like limbs pointing up, trying to fend off more hurt, the head turned up seems to be appealing vocally. – Excellent.

    Psychological impact – The frayed edges portray a mind at it its wits end, not knowing what can be done or where to go.

    Death – still lifeless, lying on its side. Finally at peace?

    Very good, well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Jonathan. Your interpretation of the three images is exactly what I intended to do so a big thank you for being able to relate to it, as my children seemed to be having a field day now convinced that their mom has lost it. And relooking at the exercise I myself was quite skeptical if others would be able to relate to what am saying. So a huge sigh of relief. Can’t thank you enough for taking the time out to provide a detailed feedback. I really needed it. Thank you so much. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Archna this is exceptional. The title and your final presentation were enough for me to be able to see what is going on.

    The physical wounds photo is multi faceted. It look to me like a spine, fragile, vulnerable, and psychological once someone’s backbone (spirit) has been broken, they are yours to control.

    The high key monochrome is great. It slows for shape and texture to be importance and yet is so subtle.

    It’s such a sensitive and tender way to tackle a cruel and inhumane crime. Very powerful.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Archna this is a beautiful and sensitive sequence and beyond imaginative in choosing ginger as the object to portray the awfulness of abuse. In addition to the analysis of both Jonathan and Richard with which I completely agree I find the image of wounds very real. I do hope these wonderful photographs are exhibited. They are outstanding.
    I have ginger on my window sill always and will be constantly keeping women suffering in the ways your describe in my thoughts.
    One practical question. This post seems to stand alone. I have been missing your blog and feel I must somehow have come disconnected!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for feeling it so emotionally and for your sensitivity. Am so happy that you can relate to it. I guess because I haven’t posted any other exercises on the group maybe that’s the reason you missed. Still hesitant – but I will now start putting everything on the group. I hope I don’t bring you sadness by reminding you of this every day, but am happy that you will be thinking of me everytime you look at that ginger on your window sill.


  5. Wow, Archna. This is an outstanding piece of work. So sensitive and so visual. Beautifully photographed and yet still communicating the horror of abuse and violence. So interesting to read of your approach in finding your subject. Well done and looking forward to the rest of the postings.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Archna. I’ve already shared my opinion and have also read your tutors feedback, a lot of which I think is Western centric and misunderstands how women are treated in India and Asia. I also feel that by trying to enforce his opinions upon you then he is intensifying the male gaze upon your photography which is contrary to the view-point he is trying to defend. I don’t think this is malicious, it’s right for me to fight for women to have equality. Just a bit misguided in his approach, and culturally ignorant.

    Youve expertly tackled violence against women in a sympathetic manner which doesn’t put any women at further risk of violence and humiliation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Richard, for your extensive feedback on this earlier as well. Its just thrown me off a bit that’s why this exercise. Even Robert felt that I should seek other people’s opinion, he felt that a lot of people will see the comparison of a woman to a vegetable, which actually no one has said so far. Am grateful for that as it was never my intention. Thanks again for sharing it – it really means a lot to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am sure he will Richard. Though he still might not see it the way I want him to. I understand that difference of opinion and that is healthy so I can improve and work upon my thought process and ideas further. Nonetheless am so grateful for all the opinions from unknown people that are coming in – am just happy to see a lot of them share the vision that I did. And till now no one has felt the comparison that Robert thought was a huge mistake so I feel ok. Thanks again, Richard.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Archna, as you know I have already commented on your post which I liked and understood. I have read your tutor feedback, and perhaps as Richard says maybe some of the comments are based upon lack of understanding of the cultural situation in India.
    I have to say that when I read your blog I certainly didn’t consider that your were equating a woman to a vegetable and it didn’t even cross my mind that this might be interpreted this way.
    I was aware of the art world and differences in opinion prior to starting this course but what has been amplified to me is that all art is really subjective.
    My working life was in very high precision and high accuracy engineering, opinions say on how to make something new would be expressed, the process decided, the product made and then we would measure it very accurately and precisely, it it met the customers specification then it was right – no opinion needed. It isn’t the same with art unfortunately.
    By definition a tutor is there to guide and teach you but as already commented this guiding process is based upon subjective opinions and he can only guide you in the way in which he thinks. Is it right? Well that is a matter of opinion I guess!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely right Jonathan. I agree that art has been and will be always subjective. And it doesn’t make it right or wrong, just a matter of being viewed and interpreted differently. I agree with some really good points that my tutor has made – like regarding it being a series that is accompanied by text as its difficult to understand on its own, without the accompanying text, which is ok, as I didn’t believe even for a second that people are going to look at it and immediately understand it. I knew it would be a struggle to understand the abstract nature of it without the accompanying text. My main aim for this feedback is to seek if anyone thought that it was degrading to use ginger as a woman. So thank you for that thought not even crossing your mind. I really appreciate you taking the time out. And from engineering to creating the art that you are, who would have thought? 🙂 Thanks so much, Jonathan.


  8. Hi Archna, I have been asked for my opinion on your photographs. I struggled with them initially (apart from the final one which I understood immediately). However, having read your blog I understood them completely, and that you were symbolising the abuse in a subtle abstract way, which for me has more impact than “in your face” pictures of abuse victims. We regularly hear about and see pictures of abuse of women and children in India and this has a desensitising effect, so I think what you have done is admirable. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gill. I really appreciate your taking the time out and providing me with your valuable feedback. Its much appreciated. Thank you so much for it. I don’t blame you for struggling with it initially. Am still struggling to understand abstract art – but that’s a good point and well taken. I appreciate that you liked the images and my treatment of the theme. Much valued. Many thanks. If you can share it with others too that would be great. 🙂 Best wishes.


  9. Hello, I was asked to comment on this series.

    I think the concept that there is no time of the day or night for these crimes is a powerful message that made me think what life must be like for some women in India.

    I struggled to understand photographs 1, 2 and 3, however I thought 4,5,6 and 7 were brilliant and intriguing.

    ‘The final moments’ is my favourite, The way the ginger appears to be rolling/falling toward the ground with the dead looking ends ending up on top pushing the life out of the healthy underneath as it heads toward the ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gavin. I truly appreciate your taking the time out and giving a valuable feedback on my images. I do understand that its a struggle to understand the images without the accompanying text and that is one feedback that is really something to think about and possibly improve upon. An image should ideally speak without having being translated into words. Maybe I could have also reduced the number of images in my final edit. Thank you so much.


  10. Hi Archna,

    I hope you don’t mind me commenting on these photos but I really found them inspiring. Thank you for providing a commentary, even without this I could see the torment, emotional and physical pain and even shame. I particularly liked pictures 5 and 7 they really called out to me and did not require any explaining.

    Your pictures are beautiful. I enjoyed the light background giving it a timeless quality and showing the features you were focusing on. To me shooting this in black and white with a piece of ginger highlights that abuse does not discriminate by race, gender or age.

    Choosing a piece of ginger is particularly clever, they have so many interesting features and like a person you cannot imagine what is below the surface (with the ginger the surface is so rough, scarred and sometimes dull but the flesh underneath has colour and warmth.

    Well done


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tamara, thank you so much for taking the time out. Its really my pleasure to have you comment upon this, especially at a time when am seeking opinions and honest feedback on this. Your comments really made me feel that I was able to achieve what I had in mind if another person looking at it has been able to identify the exact same elements that I wanted to come across. Also, your being able to relate to the piece of ginger that I have used for this series is a big relief. I used it for its sensitivity comparable to that of a woman. Thank you so very much for your time. Grateful. 🙂 Best wishes.


  11. Hi Archna, I was passed this page by someone who thought it might be of interest to me…

    I think you have done a great job of portraying a difficult theme. To be honest, at the start I wasn’t sure how you would portray domestic violence using a piece of ginger but I really liked the series.

    I felt like I understood each picture and it’s meaning, each one took me a little while and some moments of concentration, but this is perfect as I prefer photography that makes me think rather than laying it out on a plate.

    It seems the ginger, like many organic objects when photographed in detail, appears to have take on a contorted and unfamiliar nature which makes me feel quite uncomfortable. That feeling, combined with the narrative provided with each picture, left me uneasy (for want of a better word) and slightly disturbed. I wondering if this was your intention? Ether way it felt appropriate.

    Well done and keep up the thought-provoking work

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Paul. Thank you so much for your thoughts and feedback. Am so glad that you could relate to my work. Initially, I struggled to find an effective, delicate and sensitive looking subject and a lot of searching and looking finally led me to this piece of ginger, and all my ideas and thoughts became crystal clear as soon as I laid my eyes on it. Am happy to hear that you understand my need for depicting this in an abstract manner rather than an “in your face” approach. The theme itself is uncomfortable, especially for people like us, who still might struggle to understand on so many levels as to why such abuse happens and why is it taken? But its so multi-layered and so difficult to understand. It’s extremely disturbing and deeply upsetting. So its bound to make you feel uncomfortable or leave you with a thought and if you have felt this then somewhere I have succeeded to portray a theme which is violent, despite it not showing anything violent or bloody in nature, yet leave an impact on the viewer,. Many thanks, Paul, I sincerely appreciate your feedback.


  12. Dear Archna,

    Thank you for sharing your work. I think the work presented here is quite well executed and while having room to grow certainly shows vision and experimentation. Attempting to show something, to speak of something difficult visually, WITHOUT showing it directly leaves the work with a lot of room to be powerful without resulting to exploitative image-making. This is a wonderful route to go. Aesthetically, the work is soft, neutral, and gritty. The cool greys, ranging in tonality, push the work into an investigative area. The use of shallow depth of field works wonderfully to force the viewer’s attention into a micro-space. I think this helps build on your intention to make them aware of your concept and ultimately the motivation to raise awareness of the issues surrounding domestic violence and abuse.

    Visually, I find these images striking and engaging and consistent. Some are better than others of course, but as a series, they build off of one another. The first image establishes this object as a metaphor for “the woman.” We see the entire object, but not in complete focus. The object is off-center although the blackened “talon” is top-center, showing the viewer this particular spot of the object. Is the viewer meant to see this specific element as the woman or the entire object? Perhaps centering and shooting in a great depth of field could help here. It’s always tough showing the totality of something in a single image (if even possible). However, the series as a whole can do this. So perhaps consider changing the title of this image. I like that you use the camera to set up the object in human terms, by anthropomorphizing it. The second image does indeed look like an eye and you help this along with your title. The shallow depth of field really brings this home. The third image is the strongest framing and vantage point in the series. It makes the object look like a bone—a fragment of ribs perhaps? Visually it draws the eye through like a smile, allowing it to draw up along the vertical structures throughout. “Death” is effective not only because of your framing but because you establish this form earlier on as a head. Inverting it and photographing from the top alludes to it being on its back, like a dead bird.

    Your aesthetic here builds on the subject matter. The works look like evidence or archeology photographs: neutral and epistemological. However, even though I There seems to be a stop-gap between your concept and the subject matter. It is clear that this object is a stand-in for the physical, emotional, and psychological damage done to them. But what is this object? And why is it being used as a stand-in? I find it difficult to connect the two, from image to object to statement. I think answering those questions could help make the work even stronger. The aesthetic you’re using, this flat-lighting, cool, neutral greys have been used by institutions of authority and science since the 19th century. I think this is an incredible connection that you could really run with.

    Presentation. In the Lensculture interface, I see these works as both a grid and a filmstrip. I wonder though if you were to exhibit them if you’d consider grinding them together like one might an archive. I think this would present a holistic view of the work while allowing each image to work towards each title’s reference. I would urge you to consider the way these are printed and to consider how the print conveys context (see ann hamilton’s work or Mike and Doug Starns “Attracted to Light”)

    Thank you again for sharing your work and I look forward to seeing more in the future.

    Photogs to look at: Alec Soth’s “Broken Manual,” Ann Hamilton, Awoiska van der Mollen, Irving Penn “cigarette butts,” Sultan/Mandel “evidence,” Mike + Doug Starn “attracted to light”
    Additional Recommendations
    Recommended Books & Photographers
    VU Magazine

    Irving Penn “Cigarettes”

    Photo Competitions
    Lens Cultures – B&W Photography Awards 2018

    Recommendations for Gaining Exposure
    A list of international photography festivals compiled by Fotographia magazine.

    Burn Magazine

    Other Resources
    The Poetry of the Surface: Craftsmanship and Materiality in Photography

    Books (monographs)
    The Photograph as Contemporary Art, by Charlotte Cotton

    Ways of Seeing, by John Berger

    Minor White: The Eye That Shapes, by Peter C. Bunnell

    Broken Manual by Alec Soth

    Larry Sultan, Evidence

    Mike and Doug Starn “Attracted to Light”

    Books (thematic collections)
    Adam Bell

    Photographers (fine art & street)
    Ann Hamilton “ONEEVERYONE”

    Awoiska van der Molen

    Photographers (portrait & commercial)
    Irving Penn – master of light!

    Relevant Quotes from Past Jurors
    “I’m looking for a clear expression of an idea; I ask why is the photographer asking me to look at this? When reviewing hundreds of submissions, exceptional, well-executed work that animates an idea and is visually exciting really stands out and deserves to be recognized.” — Michael Famighetti, Editor, Aperture Magazine, New York City, USA

    “Every image should contribute something fresh and new to the series and help add character to the submission. A strong submission can be as few as 5 images, or as many as 10 or 15 or more.” — Jim Casper, Editor & Publisher of LensCulture

    “When looking at photographs I listen foremost to my intuition, but this is subjective, of course. I find that I am drawn to work that is layered—visually or conceptually—and capable of communicating multiple stories depending on the life experience of the viewer. A series of pictures needs to convey a multifaceted story, with irony, humor, or formal complexity.” — Natasha Egan, Executive Director, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago, IL, USA


    Liked by 1 person

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