Diaries of a Researcher: Hushangabad, 2018

Conducting Photographic Research in Hushangabad, Haryana

Photo by Lalit Choudhary

What is written below is a paper I wrote associated with a re-photography project in Hushangabad, Haryana, India. It is a combination of research, my time there and theory. Though it is a photography project, my art and research are a combined activity; each affecting the other. Without research, I cannot know where to take my artwork. Without my art production, I would not know what research questions to ask. The lines become more blurred the longer I am at it.

I presented an edited version of this paper at the Southeastern College Art Conference in Birmingham, Alabama on October 18, 2018.

Pieter Uyttenhove states in his essay, ‘Rephotography and Transformation, or the Unwritten Scenarios of the Landscape’,

After all, they [the photographs] conform to the approach taken in the previous photo when it comes to camera position, framing and object. The only serious difference from the earlier image is this time dimension that the essential contribution of rephotographing lies.[1]

While this statement is true for most rephotography projects, it is not always, as my project does not take this form. The primary reason for this is people and a complete retooling of the landscape. For this project, I was using Andrew Ward’s photographs of Hushangabad, Haryana, India as my source images. Ward first traveled to Hushangabad in 1968 to make his photographs. He spent a year and a half traveling to the village, thus not only did he photograph the village and its residence, the place seeped into his bones. I know the feeling, though with another city in India. Ward’s photographs were not taken to document the architecture of a city or the landscape. He primarily focused on people and the lives they were living. I am a different photographer, approaching the village from another time and relationship with India. I almost never photograph people and you will see my hesitation in these photographs. Because of the nature of the Indian village, then and now, there is no way I could make one to one photographic comparisons with Ward’s photographs. So I did not try. Though Ward has told his photographic story of Hushangabad, mine is just beginning. It is my intention to return to the village this coming summer and in the years to come.

Let me back up here, and discuss how I got involved in this project. Last spring, I was adjuncting at the University of Texas at Arlington. The art department was approached to host an exhibition of Andrew Ward’s photographs from Hushangabad. I was asked to participate in the project because my research and art practice revolves around India. I have traveled and lived there. I already had a trip planned for Indian this past summer, so it was easy to include a trip to the village in my plans. Easy being a relative term. But I will come back to that. Ward’s exhibition will be held between November and January and some of my photographs will be on display as well. Here I will give some background information for Hushangabad, share some of Ward’s words and images, discuss my own time in the village and where I hope to go from here.

Flowers of a dal (lentils) plant.

Flattened cow dung drying to be used as fuel with a lizard on it.

Apple slices drying on a charpoy (traditional Indian bed).

Background Information on Hushangabad

Hushangabad is said to be an ancient village, however, I can find no documentation to how old it is. The village has an Islamic name, however, today all the families living there today are Hindu. Before arriving in the village, I surmised that the Muslim families left the village at Partition and when I asked the question, this is the answer I was given. Partition occurred in 1947 when the British pulled out of India and they carved up the land to create Pakistan and India. I was told the village was named after Muhammed Husain. The land of the village was given to Hindus who had fought in the British army. The village was given specifically to Kusal Singh who had four sons who also moved to the village, Ranjit Singh, Tirkha Singh, Ganda Singh and Chandramar Singh. Furthermore, the state of Punjab was carved into two states Punjab in the north and Haryana to the south on November 1, 1966 to separate the Punjabi speakers and Hindi speakers into different states. What is weird is that to this day, the two states share a capital, Chandigarh.

The village has three growing seasons. In one season they grow wheat, mustard, green peas and chickpeas. In the second season they grow lentils and in the third season they grow rice. However, during the time Ward was visiting the village they were growing a lot of sugar cane, which I was told was one of Ward’s favorite things. After returning to the States, I asked Ward about his love of sugar cane, he wrote to me,

It’s very funny that they said I enjoyed sugar cane. It’s true that as a kid living in Delhi I used to hike through fields of the stuff and, against my mother’s proscriptions, chew on an occasional staff. But the reason this makes me laugh is because on my very first visit I was kindly offered a glass of sugar cane juice, which I duly drank. That night, back in Delhi, I was scheduled to perform folk songs at the International Center, and had to excuse myself between numbers and throw up in the wings.[2]

Anyway, today they primarily sell their crops, they only keep some of the wheat for their personal use. I was told that the village was completely self suffecent until 1960 when someone in the village bought a bicycle, thus they could travel to Faridabad to buy and sell crops and had access to other amenities.

Today, many of the children go to Palwal for their studies and many of them start businesses after graduation. Thus, they are leaving the farming profession and perhaps the village. Furthermore, some of the wealthier people in the village own homes in Palwal which they rent out and you will see later.

As you will see in comparing my photographs with Ward’s photographs, the construction materials they were using changed. I was told they began using modern construction materials about forty years ago, so about ten years after Ward stopped visiting the village. In more recent times, two years ago to be exact, they began building a highway adjacent to the village. The highway connects the area with Delhi and was opened on May 27th of this year. So it opened about a month before I arrived in the village.

Man shewing bird, Hushangabad, 1968-69. Photo by Andrew Ward.

House in Hushangabad, 1968-69. Photo by Andrew Ward.

Andrew Ward’s Photographs

To look at Ward’s photographs is to peer back in time. When one travels to India even today, they are partly looking for these ‘exotic’ scenes. Through these photographs we are transported to a time and place we, as viewer cannot comprehend. I think the best way I can begin to address Ward’s photographs is by reading his photographer’s notes to you. Though Ward made these photographs between 1968 and 1970, he has returned to the village multiple time since then, the last time being in 2016. I am not sure he snapped any photographs during this time and if he did I have not seen them. The following is what he wrote in 2010

I turned 22 in 1968, and decided I’d had enough of higher education. So I left the Rhode Island School of design to return to India, where I had lived as a boy. Contracted by the Ford Foundation to photograph a village over the course of a year, I ventured down toward Agra in search of a microcosmic site within a couple of hours’ drive of New Delhi. After passing through the market town of Faridabad, my driver and I turned eastward on a single-lane road, and just shy of the Yamuna River we came upon a small village set a few hundred yards back and surrounded by fields and hedgerows. It seemed to me to be just about right, and after introducing myself to the head man, I obtained at least official permission to photograph Hushangabad’s 140 residents as they went about their daily lives.

Fancying myself a combination [of] Walker Evans and James Agee, I eventually tried to write about Hushangabad, and my notes do read like something Agee might have given us, albeit in the third grade. As for my Walker Evans ambition, I found I was not a particularly motivated documentarian but more of an impressionist, I suppose. Nor did I have the instinct to raise my camera as soon as something instructive came along. I remember sitting on a charpoy with the head man and watching as one of his cows was being mounted by a hired bull. Their encounter was certainly impressive, but I have what my father used to call an instinct for the capillaries, and I looked over and saw a decisive moment developing in a nearby hut as a man was reaching up for something on a wall and flushing a sparrow from under his roof. The result is that while all hell was breaking loose in front of me, I instead swiveled around and captured a moment so obscure that not until I processed these images forty years later did I remember the sparrow in its flight.

I suppose I could chalk some of this up to laziness, but languor was part of the atmosphere (and still is). People worked hard – the men at a certain pitch when there was plowing and sowing and harvesting to be done, or a few chores to accomplish around the house; the women more or less constantly throughout the year. But the place was slow because the village’s engines – bullocks, buffalo, and the weather – could not be hurried.

Everyone has to manufacture everything from the rawest materials – mud, dung, sticks, jute, and the straw – and at the mercy of the elements. Someone in the village had either made or seen made almost every object in view. They made not only the things they used but most of the tools with which they made them. The jute rope in their rope-strung beds they cut and thrashed and rolled themselves. There was an enviable autonomy not only to these objects disposed as in a diagram about the yard, but to the people who made them. In that part of the last century when a young man’s fancy turned to nuclear holocaust, I realized that if anyone survived it would be these people, not I.

I did not speak much Hindi, only what little I had picked up as a child. My driver translated for me sometimes, but the rest of the time I had to make do with gestures and a smattering of nouns and verbs. So I do not claim that I truly got to know these people, except for what universal traits I could observe in them.

But for the most part I was tolerated as a curiosity, an amusement for the village children, and potentially, perhaps, a benefactor. When I left, the head man, struggling to say something nice, told me that the children would miss me. I think I was not quite a man to them. I did not plow, I did not smoke hookah, I could not string a rope bed. I remained a benign if inexplicable stranger.

The village is now all but unrecognizable, and I feel like a ghost as I make my way through it. The children in these pages are now in their forties and fifties, most of their parents and all of the grandparents, cattle, buffalo, chickens, pigs and dogs in these pictures are dead. The mud huts are gone, replaced by brick structures wired for electricity, with here and there a satellite dish. There had been intimations of the village’s prosperity back in the late 1960s. A few brick houses had gone up; the head man’s first, then a few others, including the landlord’s, immune to the monsoon deluge that eroded the mud houses of their neighbors; the mud everything, in fact; mud walls, mud chicken coops, mud ovens, mud cisterns, mud troughs.

Every now and then on one of my return visits, someone from these pictures emerged from one of the houses and recognized me, and we greet each other shyly, standing on the tamped clay ground. The peppery schoolgirls who used to run up to me with some new English phrase like, “Are you a man?” are now matrons who must keep their faces hidden from the likes of me. So my visits tend to obtrude on the village I still dream about sometimes; the village I tried to capture in these photographs. I will let these pictures say what I still cannot put into words, and recall with a kind of sorrowing gratitude Hushangabad’s forbearance all those years ago.[3]

Ward’s photographs reflect the slow movement of Hushangabad. Though he says he fancied himself as a cross between Walker Evans and James Agee, he does not give himself enough credit for the moments he chose to focus on. He captures the mundane, snippets of these people’s daily lives, the pieces that are unconsidered. The fact that he visited the village many times over a year and a half period, let him become familiar to the villagers. Though as I know, you can never fully belong as a foreigner, he was able to become less obtuse and therefore able to capture these simple moments.

Lalit asking tuk-tuk driver where Hushangabad is. He did not know.

Lalit asking man at juice stand if he knew where Hushangabad was. He did not.

Lalit and I in a cycle-rickshaw being taken to a hotel in Palwal, Haryanan.

Betsy Williamson’s Experience in Hushangabad

I fancy myself a traveler, an artist, and a scholar. Though I am educated in photography, it is not my usual practice to take straight photographs and leave them be. I am trained as an academic writer not a creative writer and you will hear this as I tell my story. I do not think what I have written below is as eloquent as what Ward wrote above. That being said, here is my journey…

My trip to Hushangabad started much like Ward’s, at a loss of how to get where I wanted to be. However, I had a little help from the internet. My journey to the village started here in the States. It took much time to find the village in Google Maps. As the way I am spelling Hushangabad here is not how it is spelled online, nor is it how it is spelled as you enter the village. (This is the way Ward spells it.) There is a larger town by the name Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh. It is about 757 kilometers south of Hosangabad, Haryana. I cannot remember how I figured out the spelling to find the right place. I do know I searched Faridabad, the town Ward mentions in his photographer’s notes. On google maps it just gives a general area, it does not show exactly where the village is. But from there I could see what the nearest big city was, Palwal. Once in India, I asked my fried Lalit Choudhary to travel to the village with me. We were in Udaipur and took the night train to Gurugram. We arrived still under the cover of darkness and we had to find the local bus stand. We found a tuk-tuk driver and he took us to the bus station. We had to wait there several hours before the bus was leaving. Once we arrived in Palwal, we asked people if they knew were the village was. No one seemed to know. We asked a rickshaw driver, a few random people on the street and some young men at a juice stand. After not finding anyone who knew where the village was, we decided to find a hotel in the city. We caught a cycle-rickshaw and were shown to a hotel. The first hotel we arrived at would not let us stay there. I am fairly certain they said no because they did not know how to fill out the foreigner paperwork. Funny, I could show them. So our driver took us to another hotel. The second hotel, Hotel Posh let us stay. We got settled in and had some breakfast. Then we headed out once again. Lalit inquired in the lobby about the village and where we could get transportation. They directed us to Hasanpur-Palwal Rd. We hit the dusty road outside the hotel and walked the 600 meters to the cross street. Once there, Lalit asked around. He talked to a taxi driver but he wanted a lot of money. There was a share jeep heading in that direction once it was full and it would be far cheaper. Thus, we waited. After about half an hour, we hit the road. It was a bumpy and dusty road leading out of the city. Once outside the city the road smoothed out. Just a few hundred meters after passing under a brand-new highway, we were dropped off. Hushangabad sits several hundred meters off the road.

First view of Hushangabad from the highway.

Google Earth screen shot of Hushangabad.

Lalit and I headed down the dirt road towards the village. As we walked we discussed what we were going to do. We could see a small snack shop and decided we would ask there. I told Lalit to ask about the family of Piere Lal. When we get to the shop, Lalit speaks to the woman working there. She says something to a child and the boy leads us to a house where an elderly man is sitting on the porch. Ward had told me Piere Lal had died some years earlier but that his wife had still been alive when he had last visited in 2016. I was later told that Piere Lal’s wife had died in March of this year, I had just missed her. Lalit began speaking to the man on the porch and we learned he was one of Piere Lal’s brothers. Not much time passed and others flocked to the porch. Two of Piere Lal’s nephews came and showed us to their house where another one of Piere Lal’s brothers lived. We explained to them that I knew Mr. Ward and that I wanted to ask them some questions and make photographs of the village. They indicated that it would be fine. Through my questions, I found out the information about the village I stated above. I was extremely nervous asking my questions and trying to note it all down. In addition to the village information, Ward had asked me to try and find out the names of some of the people in the photographs. Ward has a self-published book of the photographs. I had taken pictures of each page of the book with my iPhone in order to have them in the village, but luckily, the Lal family had a copy of the book which they pulled out. Ward had suggested I ask the elderly women in the village about the names. However, I started by asking these men. They were able to give me the names of a few people in the photos. Later, I did sit with the only elderly woman I saw in town. She said her photograph was in the book, but as we looked through it, she did not recognize herself, much less anyone else. As it turns out, Ward wanted the names so he could use them on the information tags in the exhibition. He was disappointed that I did not acquire more names. He told me his thoughts and said something about them being lost to time. I told him in the overall scheme the names were not important. This conversation adds something to the project for me, a longing for something that cannot be recovered. And because of the language barrier, I do not have the names of the people I was talking to, even though I was told some of them, putting me in the same predicament as Ward.

The family fed us lunch and then we were taken to another house. This turned out to be the house of Piere Lal’s son. We chatted with him, his wife and their maid for a while and then headed out to make some photographs, escorted by two pre-teen boys. When we first headed out, it was a little awkward. However, after some time everyone was able to relax. I am sure the whole village thought I was crazy. As we walked around the village, I walked over to a cement platform with a few benches around it. The boys told us that it was the spot they cremated the dead. I thought about Piere Lal’s wife being cremated here just months earlier, again a sense of loss. A loss of someone I never knew. One of the boys told us that the river passed behind the village nearby and he walked us there. It turns out, the river is the Yumana River, the river that flows past the Taj Mahal about 167 kilometers south of the village. It was moving to know they have access to the river and do not have to travel in order to morn their dead.

Cremation platform

Yamuna River. This is where the villagers of Hushangabad place the ashes of their dead. The ashes flow down stream past the Taj Mahal and eventual merge with the Ganges.

Once back in the village, the young women had put a plastic chair under a tree and insisted that I take a break and rest in the shade. For the most part, I have no idea what types of conversations were going on. The ladies and children were talking with Lalit but it was not being translated to me, other than the women thought I was crazy because it was so hot. And yes, it was hot, it was well over 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

After this, we made our way back to the house were we had had lunch. We stayed there chatting for a while and then headed back to Palwal for the night. Back in Palwal, we ate dinner showered and went to sleep. The second morning, we woke up and got ready and headed back to catch a share jeep. Back in the village, we chatted with people again, walked around and made some more photographs. We also stopped once again to chat with the women. It was during this time that I looked through the book with the one elderly woman in town.

After making our round through the village again, we were asked if we wanted to walk out through the fields. Of course we said yes, and we headed across the highway and started towards a lone large house out in the fields. As we walked down this narrow dirt road, we were met by a middle aged man on a motorcycle. He took me the rest of the way on the bike, we tried to have a chat with his broken English and my broken Hindi. After a few minutes, Lalit, Piere Lal’s son and the children that I had been walking with showed up. It was unclear who owned the abandoned house we were at. It was on a large walled in lot. The house seemed large and impressive and there was a now trashed swimming pool on the lot. We sat around and the men were chatting. It turns out, they were talking about me. Lalit told me later, that Piere Lal’s son had wanted to know if I was married and when Lalit told him I was not, he wanted to know what I did for sex since I was not married. Lalit apparently told him as an American woman I was free to do what I wanted and I could sleep with someone if I wanted to. Ha! Cultural exchange, it keep life interesting.

Piere Lal’s son had offered to take us back to the bus stand in Palwal. However, he wanted to introduce us to a family in another village because the 19 year old daughter, Savin speaks English. Piere Lal’s son also wanted to drink with me. After walking back to Hushangabad, we gathered up our things at the uncle’s house and he (the uncle) gave me a 100 rupee note and told me he had six daughters and that now I was his seventh. This he said to me in English, someone must have told him how to say it. I thought it was very sweet and I keep the 100 rupee note with me.

Selfie in the shade with villagers.

Group portrait in the shade by Lalit Choudhary.

Once at the house of Savin, it was obvious that they were even more “traditional” that the families in Hushangabad. In Hushangabad, the women no longer covered their faces at the sight of Lalit, as they had with Ward. But arriving in the other village, the women did cover their faces. In fact they took me back to another area of the house away from the men. Savin asked me all sorts of questions surrounded by her sisters-in-law and a dozen or so children.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the men ventured back to where we were. At which point, I was offered a drink. In Indian culture, it is not proper for a woman to drink and Savin expressed her distain. I decided to save face and not drink. As we chatted, Savin asked me about my marital status. She still had one single brother and said I could marry him. I obviously offended her when I said no. I told her that we came from two very different cultures and that I would not fit in in her home. She seemed satisfied. From there, we headed back to Palwal. Lalit, myself, Piere Lal’s son and the man that had been offered for marriage. In Palwal, Piere Lal’s son wanted to show me the house they owned and rented out. He thought I would like to meet the renters because they are Christian and he wanted me to photograph the house to show it to Ward. The family was very nice, it was a single mother and her two sons, one in his early twenties and attending college, the other still in high school. I hope to meet them again.

At the bus station, Lalit and I said goodbye to Piere Lal’s son and my would-be fiancé. I was sad saying goodbye, as I plan to meet them again but we can never really know what the future holds. Lalit and I boarded the bus headed to Gurugram. The bus was full and Lalit had to stand for a while. As a foreign woman, they made sure I had somewhere to sit. After all the excitement, I had no problem passing out on the crowded un-air-conditioned bus. The night before, we had decided to take an over-night bus from Gurugram back to Udaipur.

Once we arrived in Gurugram, we had to find where our over-night bus was going to pick us up. We walked around and Lalit asked people. Gurugram is a large suburb of Delhi. It is were companies like Google have their Indian headquarters. Strangely, parts of Gurugram look very much like the United States. But looks are deceiving and it is still India. We found the general area of where our bus would come and we waited. We had to pay attention and look at all the bus license plates as that is what we had to know what bus to get on. Our bus arrived after dark.  It was my first time on an over-night bus. We got on and I saw what the bus was really like. It had little cubby holes. On one side of the bus were little sleeping spaces for single people and on the other side double sleeping spaces. Lalit and I found our cubby hole towards the back on the top. We crawled in and I got by the window. I watched the world pass by and Lalit played poker on his phone as we started down the street and got on the freeway. After a short time, I really needed to go to the bathroom. Fortunately, after about an hour we stopped for dinner at a roadside Dhaba which is a roadside café, visited by bus travelers and truck drivers. Lalit and I headed to the toilets and then had some dinner. I have no idea what we ate but it was good. Back on the bus we talked a while and then passed out.

Back in Udaipur the next morning, we resumed our normal lives. Now completely divorced from the nostalgia of the village it feels like a dream.

Savin and I. Photo by Lalit Choudhary.

Savin’s nieces, nephews, father and myself. Photo by Lalit Choudhary.

The Photographs

Now that you have heard our memories of our time in Hushangabad, we can consider the photographs academically. There are many ways in which we can give agency to these photographs. One of those ways is through the simple comparison of the photographs and their ability to show how the village has and has not changed over fifty years. Another way we can discuss these photographs is through the way Ward and I have created an imagined place for foreigners or helped add to the collective memory of the residence. These photographs could also be examined in the trajectory of foreigners photographing in India and the list could go on. Before getting to these ways of reading the photographs, as it were, we need to go back to the basics.

We all think we can read photographs, however, photographs as we know are culturally constructed, as Allen Sekula in ‘On the Invention of the Photographic Meaning,’ states,

The meaning of a photograph, like that of any other entity, is inevitably subject to cultural definition. The task here is to define and engage critically something we might call ‘the photographic discourse.’ A discourse can be defined as an arena of information exchange, that is, as a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity.[4]

This mean we, as primarily American’s sitting somewhere in the United States, will not read these photographs in the same way as the residence of Hushangabad or an Indian national because our discourse is slightly different. I argue that we here in on this continent, read the surface of Ward’s photographs as this innocent, exotic world now lost to time, possibly slipping our thinking back to colonial notions. Not because we are being judgmental but because we cannot understand this life. However, my photographs prove that the exotic world is not completely lost. There are elements of life visible in the two groups of photographs that remain the same. For example, the use of the hookah or the charpoy, a traditional Indian rope bed. To the point, one must have an understanding of a hookah or charpoy and their roles in this society to fully interpret the meaning of the photos. Furthermore, one might see my images and think what “backward” or less contemporary life these villagers must live. This would be an incorrect conclusion.

Sliced apples drying on a charpoy.

Cell phone charging on a charpoy.

Baby cow tied up in the street.

As Sekula continues, “the photograph is an ‘incomplete’ utterance, a message that depends on some external matrix of conditions and presuppositions for its readability.”[5] This means, the photograph has to be given something, or the viewer must have a specific knowledge to understand the message in the image. The external matrix could be the cultural clues mentioned above or the context of the narratives presented above. Or a reading can be done through a comparison of the early photographs and the ones from this year.

Though I did not try to make one-to-one compositions with Ward’s photos, I did try to photograph some like items to those Ward photographed. For instance, the water buffalo or a simple still-life. These comparisons, though not one-to-one, remind us of what Joan Schwartz in her article, ‘Photography and the construction of Place,’ plainly states “photography offered a new way of seeing, one which extended the powers of human observation across space and time.”[6] Though Schwartz is speaking to the early history of photography, we know now that these rephotography projects double the observation across space and time, showing us the change of locations across time. This can give non-native viewers a better understanding of how life has changed in the village and gives the villagers an image of their past. For instance, Ward and I both made photographs of men with bikes on a dusty lane. Ward’s photograph is horizontal, black and white and he is standing at a further distance from the subject, a man walking his bicycle down the lane. The road is lined with foliage. It seems very rural. My photograph on the other hand, is vertical, color and I am standing closer to my subjects, two men who have stopped and posed for the photograph with their motorcycle. In this image, there are some trees in the background but there are also contemporary structures and a car in the background. Thus, we can see the change in the landscape over time. Though there are these differences in the photographs, the men in both photographs are wearing the same thing, Pajamas (not to be confused with our sleepwear) letting us, the viewers know everything has not changed.

Man with his bicycle on dirt road, Hushangabad. Photo by Andrew Ward, 1968-1968.

Two men and a motorcycle on dirt road, Hushangabad, 2018.

Furthermore, these photographs can help them construct a collective memory of these times in the village. For as long as a member of the village community is alive and of sharp mind, they will remember the times surrounding when the foreign man and woman came and showed interested in their community. Ward’s photographs were first seen by the village in 2010 when Ward presented his book to the community. Thus, the people who were alive when the photographs were taken were re-introduced to that period in their lives. The children and new comers to the village were able to see the village in the late 1960’s giving them a notion of the way things used to be. My visit this past summer, re-introduced Ward’s photographs to the community. Children gathered around and looked at the photographs while the grandfathers and uncles told Lalit and me stories from that time and details of the village history. Perhaps this was the first time the children had seen these photos or heard these stories. Thus bringing these images into their minds. The book also followed me to the old woman’s charpoy where other women ranging in age from late teens to their 40’s gathered around to see. It is possible some of these women did not grow up in Hushangabad but married into the village. These photographs could help cement stories these women have heard of the villages past. As Allen Trachtenberg reminds us, “the camera produces not ‘the past’ but the intractableness of ‘what has been,’ paraphrasing Roland Barthes.[7] It is this ‘what has been’ that village viewer of these photographs can recognize in their town.

As I stated at the beginning of this paper, I hope to return to Hushangabad this coming summer and in the years to come. Though I will surely continue to make overviews of the village, I hope to be able to become friendlier with the women of the village. I would like to gain access to the insides of the homes in order to photograph them. I would also like to work with the women to make photos that are a created scene between them and me bringing them into the artistic process. I also hope to do some kind of project with the children, maybe photographic in nature and maybe not.

In conclusion, after leaving the village, I realized I was trying to photograph the past, the exotic. I had found a punctum in some of Ward’s photographs and I was searching for this. I did not find that punctum. It was impossible to find because the past does not currently live in my photographs, they still remain in the present for a time. The things in the village that remind me of the past are of the present for the residence. Life there is their normal and like people everywhere, they roll with the changes when they come, accepting them as part of their new normal. However, look back at my photographs now, I do find punctum in some of them and I am sure in 50 years they will be full of the nostalgic punctum I was searching for.

Home interior showing plastic chair, sewing machine, and fan.

Cow in doorway behind drying laundry.

Ceramic pot sitting next to a structure made of natural materials.


[1] Pieter Uyttenhove, ‘Rephotographing and Transformation, or the unwritten Scenario of the landscape,’ in Recollecting Landscapes: Rephotography, Memory and Transformation 1904-1980-2004-2014 (Amsterdam: Roma Publications, 2018): 159.

[2] From personal email correspondence with Andrew Ward.

[3] Andrew Ward, Hushangabad (Back Burner Press: Davis, CA), 2010.

[4] Allen Sekula, ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meanings,’ Artform, vol. 13, no. 5 (January 1975), 36-45. (Reprinted in Victor Burgin, ed., Thinking Photography (London: Macmillan, 1982), 452.

[5] Ibid, 453.

[6] Joan Schwartz, “Photography and the construction of place,” The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford University Press Online, 2006).

[7] Allen Tractenberg, “Through a Glass, Darkly: Photography and Cultural Memory,” Social Research, Vol. 75, No. 1, (Spring, 2008), 117.

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By |2018-11-12T11:50:48-06:00November 13th, 2018|Diary of a Researcher|0 Comments

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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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