The following photo essay is self exploratory in nature, it juxtaposes images to see how meaning is constructed by the interaction of the photographer with the subjects, as well as of the subjects with one another. It also aims to look at what relationship the photographer holds with the subjects of the images. The photo essay is a work of art and does not try to make any universal claims. For this reason, I will be using a first person language in the text. The essay draws from the existing semiotic theory, in order to observe and confirm that all meaning created in the photographs is the photographer’s construction and that the subjects in the photographs exist as independent objects in a realm where the photographer is a mere subject. The theorists who have inspired the content of this essay may or may not be regarded highly in their respective networks, but the aim of the essay is introspective rather than making claims about the external world, and to raise questions for the people reading this essay. It is important to state the intention that led to the creation of this project as it is not coincidence which brings these images together, but the images are closely knit with one another in space and time. All the images were captured in the months of February 2020 and November 2020, in Viman Nagar, Pune, Maharashtra. The set of images were photographed with an intention to find parallels between the graffiti as well as wall paintings, and the artefacts found in the place, as well as the human interactions with one another and with their environment.
It was a gradual process, but in February 2020, the walls of several localities in Viman Nagar either had graffiti on them, or were painted by private organizations and government funded projects. The wall paintings/graffiti are multifaceted in nature, some almost universal, and some extremely esoteric. The wall arts were of several themes, ranging from raising awareness to save trees and water, to the cannabis culture in Viman Nagar. Some graffiti on the walls of residential colonies were whitewashed but they did not fully wash away and the whitewash seemed as if it was adding an extra layer to the statement that the graffiti was already making.
The idea of understanding what these wall arts meant to people emerged from my own understanding of the pieces of art, as I began to partially see through the layers of why I made sense of them the way I did. This awareness, even though on a surface level, pushed me to enquire about the possible perceptions of the artworks and also peek into myself, if my manifestation of the images can reveal truths about myself.
In art, interpretation refers to the meaning attributed to any form of art. Art might have a true meaning, but the context of perceiving it has no range. Here, we shall understand the wall paintings and the graffiti as signs. The street photographs must also be considered as signs, as signified by the photographer. Before we go further, I would like to restate that the meaning is not inherent in the object being signified, it is generated by the interaction of the object, the sign, and the interpreter in a given cultural milieu. As a photographer, a man with a tool to capture pieces of reality, am I revealing as much about myself, as I am about the world that I capture through the eyes of my camera? On exploring the idea of “What is a man?” Charles Peirce answered “We have already seen that every state of consciousness is an inference, so that life is but a sequence of inferences or a train of thought. At any instant then man is a thought, and as thought is a species of symbol, the general answer to the question what is man, is that he is a symbol.” Peirce had a radical idea of the man as a sign. To elaborate his conception, he said “It is that the word or sign which man uses is the man himself. For, as the fact that every thought is a sign, taken in conjunction with the fact that life is a train of thought, proves that man is a sign; so, that every thought is an external sign, proves that man is an external sign. That is to say, the man and the external sign are identical, in the same sense in which the words homo and man are identical. Thus my language is the sum total of myself; for the man is the thought.” According to Peirce, knowledge of the internal self was to be derived from the knowledge of the external facts. Peirce and Mead suggest that we view ourselves as what we are in the immediate moment, as the breathing “I”. But a lot of the present moment “I” is a remembrance of the socialized “me” of the past, and the anticipation of the self that will be “me” in the future. In the context of this essay, the photographs I take, and the meanings that I construct by juxtaposing images, are a result of the history which is unique to myself, and the future that I intend to pave. The act of photographing is such that it freezes moments in time and enables preservation. In my case, looking at the photographs that I took a few months back, I could notice a wider variety of nuances in them, which were a reflection of myself.
As I try to understand myself through the images that I have made for this project, I also intend to see the various ways in which the audiences make meaning of the images displayed. The intended meaning, as I choose to embed the images with, is clear to me and I choose to assemble the series in a simple and honest manner in order to eliminate the opaqueness between myself as an artist, and the audiences that I reach.
“Whenever we think, we have present to the consciousness some feeling, image, conception, or other representation, which serves as a sign. But it follows from our own existence (which is proved by the occurrence of ignorance and error) that everything which is present to us is a phenomenal manifestation of ourselves. This does not prevent its being a pheonomenon of something without us, just as a rainbow is at once a manifestation both of the sun and the rain. When we think, then, we ourselves, as we are at the moment, appear as a sign.”
1. Singer, M. (1980). Signs of the Self: An Exploration in Semiotic Anthropology. American Anthropologist, 82(3), new series, 485-507. Retrieved May 26, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/677438
2. Uslucan, H.-H. (2004). Charles Sanders Peirce and the Semiotic Foundation of Self and Reason. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 11(2), 96–108. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1102_2
3. Barker, J. I. (2005). The self as an internal dialogue: Mead, blumer, peirce, and wiley. The American Sociologist, 36(1), 75–84. doi:10.1007/s12108-005-1010-4