Photo Focus: Sajjad Ahmed

Welcome to Photo Focus, where I examine a single photograph. These short essay’s will give a greater insight into the individual image beyond its context within a group of photographs. Furthermore, this is inspired by an idea a professor of mine always discussed in graduate school. He would talk about what about the photograph brought the viewer in and kept his or her attention. I will discuss what draws me to the photograph as well as, give a description of the photograph, a formal analysis, and discuss the meaning of the photograph.


Art is worthy endeavor because there are so many stories to be told and so many perspectives to be seen. I have always been drawn to photography and think it is a medium that can communicate both about reality and fiction and anything in between. Sometimes the message is coded and the viewer is not sure where to go. The best way to figure out what a photograph or any work of art is about is to take note of its subject, analyze the elements and principles of design (and at times art movements) and possibly research the historical context of the photograph and what it depicts.

The photograph above by Sajjad Ahmed titled God of Small Things depicts rowed stacks of shipping containers. There are five columns of the shipping containers and seven rows of shipping containers creating a large rectangle that mirrors the shape of a single container. Thirty of the containers have visible logos on them, while five do not, making the total number of shipping containers thirty-five. There appears to be purpose in the way the shipping containers have been arranged. Both of the upper corner containers are green and the lower corner containers are neutral colors, both shades of grey. The second container in the first, third, and last columns is blue, while the fourth container in the second and forth columns is blue. The blue containers being placed this way creates an undulating pattern. The middle container is the only purple container and the combinations continue.

The shipping containers have been placed in the center of the photographs frame. The photograph is panoramic, so that it takes on the same shape as the shipping containers. The bottom forth of the frame is filled with a grey cement floor. There is a step up like a curb where the containers are sitting and at that ledge there is a banding of red and white reflective tape to warn people to step up. There is equal distance between the edge of the shipping containers and the edge of the picture frame. On the left and right sides it is dark but the vast building can be seen stretching out behind the containers through the ceiling structure and lights. Across the top of the photograph there are five lights equal distance from one another. The three on the inside are all turned on and pointed towards the shipping container. The two lights on the outside are turned off and pointed outward.

As noted above, the placement of elements in the photograph are all intentional. The placement of the containers in the warehouse makes the containers look like a sculptural art piece as they are centered with lights on them. Making this photography seem to be a work of art about art. Art about Art is my favorite Art. I will come back to this idea. The main elements and principles of design used in this work are shape, structure, color and pattern. The main feature of the photograph is the repeating shape of a rectangle. The frame of the photograph is a rectangle which is repeated by the group of shipping containers that create a rectangle and the individual containers themselves. This shape creates the structure of the photograph which is again a rectangle. The rectangular shape creates a feeling of stability, thus the photographs and containers it depicts seems heavy, permanent, important. The use of color adds the artistic element to the composition making the stacks of shipping containers feel like an art piece in their own right. As stated above, there is a deliberate way the containers have been placed in relation to their color. This play with color and the patterns being created with them give the viewers eyes a way to move around the photograph. These design elements and principles not only point to a meaning but also an artistic movement.

This photograph in part seems to be a work of art about art because of the way the shipping containers are placed and framed. It elevates the containers to the statues of art objects though their stacking, framing and lighting. Art about art is a part of a movement known as Conceptual Art. Conceptual Art is based on the premise that the idea behind the work of art is more important than the art work itself.  However, in 21st century Conceptual Art the artist also cares about the look of the artwork more so than in the past. The connection between this photograph and Conceptual Art is the interest in Idea. A viewer will not look at this photograph and immediately know what it is about or they will think it is about the shipping containers themselves. I would argue the shipping containers carry a meaning beyond themselves in this photograph.

My interpretation of this photograph is through the mind and education of the United States but the photographer is Pakistani, I did not read an artist statement or anything about this work, so the interpretation is mine and may have nothing to do with the photographers intent. My interpretation is based on all of the things I have stated above. To me the shipping containers represent objects to be bought and sold. However, they could also represent global connectivity as they take goods across oceans and connect us all. The idea of commodity is one that has ruled the minds of Americans for decades and is growing globally. Furthermore, art has been seen as a commodity for centuries. Here Ahmed has commoditized the shipping containers and elevated these transportation objects to the statues of art. Thus the shipping containers being framed like art connects the art scene with a global market.

In conclusion, this photograph is about global connectivity. We are all connected by the goods we buy and sell as they are all made across the globe. Art is also a connective device as we all viewer art from all traditions. Ahmed used the elements and principles of design in a way to elevate the meaning of the shipping containers creating a larger conversation. A well composed photograph can always be interpreted to find its meaning.

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Photography/History Vocabulary: Elements of Design
Photography/History Vocabulary: Definition of Frame
Photography/History Vocabulary: Principles of Design

By |2018-10-15T12:54:18-05:00November 25th, 2016|Photo Focus|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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