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.
A few years ago, I was told by an American curator of photography that there was not very much photography coming out of India. When I had begun my own research into the photography of India, I will admit it was difficult to find photographers. However, once I found one source, I found more and more. Today I continue to search for new (to me) photographers and when I search I find. Today’s Photo Focus examines a photograph by Anushree Fadnavis. I came across her work on the website for the Indian Photography Festival in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. I was moved by her overall project because it focuses on women on the train. I was particularly curious about one photograph which is a self-portrait, the one you see above. Through a formal analysis of the photograph, the photograph’s meaning can be better understood and this is the goal of this post.
The photograph above is a self-portrait of the artist on a commuter train in India. Many times you will hear that centering a subject in a photograph is less dynamic than if you have it off center. However, in this composition the centering of the subject works. In the foreground you see the self-portrait of the artist. Her face is cut off just below the eyes by the frame. She has brown eyes and deep brown hair. Behind her the train compartment extends into the distance. The seats have metal frames and the seat covers are a bright blue. The swinging handrails cover the top half of the photograph. A police officer stands in the middle ground of the photograph. He appears to realize the photograph is being taken, as he looks like he is posing.
This photograph has been composed using several design elements and principles. The primary element is line, but also color is important. Line is important because it is being used successfully in a few ways. The first and most obvious way line is used is through the horizontal bars of the trains design. On the back of each seat there is a bar that goes across. Furthermore there is a vertical bar structure going from the back of each seat to the roof of the train car which contains multiple horizontal bars for passengers to hold. The next way line is used in this photograph is through the lines moving to the distance created by the swinging handrails. The lines of the handrails create one-point linear perspective, thus drawing the viewer’s eye back to the police officer. The last way line is used in the photograph is through line of sight. Line of sight is the line created by where the figure in the foreground is looking. A viewer naturally follows the gaze of the figures in an image. The line of sight leads the viewer up to the row of swinging handrails, which leads to the one-point linear perspective and ultimately the police officer. The use of color is also important. The bright blue attracts the viewer to the image because it is the only non-neutral color in the photograph. The blue would grab someone’s attention whether they see a print of the photograph across the room or on a computer screen. It will make you stop and look.
This photograph belongs to a wider group of work of Fadnavis has taken inside the train, primarily focused on the ladies only compartment. This photograph is an interesting addition because there is a male figure in the compartment, the police officer. The photograph is structured through the use of line and implies a structure provided by the train to the photographer. The photograph not only implies stability but also questions female safety on public transportation. While I would argue the photographer is the most dominant aspect of the photograph, all the elements point to the police officer. Like many places in the world, India still has a male dominated society. There are ladies only compartments on the local trains and metro’s in India to provide safety. The police officer in the car both implies safety but also the threat men pose to women. In the United States, it is becoming more common to question the veracity of an officer but in other parts of the world that has been common for years. This photograph was originally posted in Instagram and has a text with it. Through the text we know this police officer is probably one of the good guys as the artist had a conversation with him. In the conversation, Fadnavis states she feels safer with him there. I think this is a good sign for the state of relations between the police and the population of India.
This photograph highlights the mundane. It shows that the daily activity of traveling on a train can be an interesting one, perhaps the most interesting. I enjoy the practice of making self-portraits; it is something I just started to play with. I love the way Fadnavis has used the self-portrait in an innovative an meaningful way. Her use of line and color make the photograph stand out from a mirage of self-portraits. Everything points to the meaning of the photograph, which is the interaction between the artist and the police officer. I think this photograph informs the larger body of work and I am excited to explore more of Anushree Fadnavis photographs.
You can see more of Fadnavis work on her website, anushreefadnavis.weebly.com.
Or on Instagram, anushree_fadnavis