Works in Progress: Self-Portraits, Signifier at the Royal Cenotaphs

While I was in Udiapur the first time, I was here for an artist residency. I made posts about that experience and shows how the work progressed while I was there. Now that I am back I am working on several projects. I thought I would be nice to share those projects as they progress and get your feedback on the work.

I am excited to announce that I finally started a new project! I have been thinking about the project for months and got started two weeks ago. So, for starters I will explain a little bit about the project and then I will tell you about my first photo outing for the project.

As you know for my last project I made photographs of myself inside one of the rooms at the house where I am staying. I wanted to continue to make self-portraits that express my mental journey through adjusting to this new place. India is not like the United States where people move there and can integrate into society and not be seen any different from anyone else. Here in India, I will never be seen as a local. Those who have never seen me will always think I am a tourist. With this project I am going out into the landscape and photographing myself there in awkward positions.

I was very excited because I got to go make photographs at the Royal Cenotaphs. A cenotaph is a memorials dedicated to a certain person, like a grave stone only the person is not buried there. Here in Udaipur there are cenotaphs dedicated to the rulers. It is like a huge graveyard with no one buried in it. I got this opportunity because I met an American man, Tom, who is working in Hyderabad. He came to Udaipur for a wedding. He is a photography enthusiast and had also read about the cenotaphs and wanted to go. We went in the evening for the golden hour. However, because the monuments are so tall most of my photographs are in the shadows.

After arriving and walking through we split up. I knew I wanted to start working on this project. I had dreamed of making photographs for this project at the Royal Cenotaphs. I did start out by taking just some overall shots of the place and then I got to work. The second photograph I took for the project is the one you see above where I am lying on the stairs. I had to search for somewhere I could lie down; the place was covered in bird shit. I found a clean stair and began working. I took three photographs and the one above is the one I liked the most.

After making this photograph I continued through the complex. Next I came across the cenotaph you see above. I was drawn to it because there were bangles and flower petals laying on it, left as offerings. It may be hard to see in the online reproduction. I set up my camera between two other cenotaphs and started running back and forth. The first photo was out of focus. I fixed it and ran back to the structure. Then after checking the camera again, I thought I looked fat and needed to suck in my gut, so I set the timer again and ran back over to the monument (this is the photo you see above). Once the photo was taken I ran back over to the camera. At this point I got stung by a wasp! Ouch! At first I thought I had gotten a sticker from a plant caught on the right shoulder of my sweater, so I reached up and grabbed it with my right hand. That was a mistake because I grabbed the wasp and it stung me a second time on the pinky finger. At this point I paced around holding my finger and looking at my shoulder. I gathered up my things and took a short break.

Once the pain went down I went back out shooting and I took the last two photographs that you see below. I first took the photograph where I am hugging the column and then the one where I am standing on the blocks. I was attracted to the gazebo structure because one of the columns was falling inward. I thought it might make a nice composition.  But in the end, it is not my favorite photograph. To take this image I had my camera up on a platform. From here I could see the cement blocks on the ground. They look like foundation blocks to me and I wondered what they were supposed to hold up. I decided to go stand on them and see what happened. I actually like the results of the photograph but I am not sure it will fit with the overall project in the end.

I thought my trip to the Royal Cenotaphs was a successful endeavor into my new project. I am particularly drawn to the photograph of me lying on the stairs. For now I will keep it in the project. I am so glad I met Tom and got the opportunity to go out and make photographs with someone. Stay tuned for my next self-portrait adventure!

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By |2018-10-15T11:55:01-05:00December 18th, 2016|self-portraits|2 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.


  1. Ross Faircloth December 20, 2016 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Of the images you posted so far I would say my favorite and ones I feel are most successful would be 1. the image of you standing on the blocks 2. the one of you hugging the column (not sure about the gesture, but the composition of the image and somewhat hidden position you are in is working!) Keep it up Betsy! These are looking good!

    • south asian photo December 21, 2016 at 1:00 am - Reply

      Thanks for the feedback Ross! Very helpful.

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