There is so much to unpack in Ashima Yadava’s Front Yard that it’s hard to decide where to start and the approximately 500 words we have here are certainly not going to be enough to do it justice. Yadava takes the front yard and its connotations as her starting point — it is considered the public face of a house, especially in the US. While the interiors and the back garden are largely hidden from view, it’s the front yard that everybody sees; in a way, it’s similar to photographs of birthdays and weddings in family albums. Both the front garden and these types of photographs are used to portray how we want to be seen by the outside world and how we’d like to be remembered — perhaps a clean and tidy person who’s really into their gardening, or a slightly quirky one, etc. It’s exactly the same reason why people love taking photographs when happy, nowadays mainly for social media — to present a highly curated image of themselves. The front part of our homes is used to display an idealised version of us, our family, our lives, which may or may not be true, or could be true, but only to an extent and a little embellished.
As lockdown was announced in March 2020, Yadava turned to her own community to photograph and she chose the front yard as the ideal setting — intriguing from a metaphorical point of view as it is the boundary between seen and unseen, public and private, but also thoughtful from a public health perspective. Her approach to documentary photography is rather unusual and one worthy of praise — in order to disrupt the typical one-sided gaze (photographer capturing “subjects”), which, in her words, is so problematic in documentary photography, she opens up the process to collaboration. The photographer uses both digital and analogue large format cameras simultaneously so Front Yard is at least as much about the process of photographing and working towards something together than it is about the final outcome. The digital colour photographs are Yadava’s own observations whereas the black and white embellished images demonstrate the way the people portrayed would like to be seen. It’s a curious mix, aided by the artist’s decision to leave the film frame on and also the contrast between the black and white picture and the colourful doodles.
Some families have chosen to only colour in certain areas — make their lawn grassy green, for instance, in order to accentuate their pride and joy. Others have added in bizarre creatures like spiders, or an anatomical heart, Urdu couplet and balloon-shaped fingertips. Playfully inventive, the project disperses the age-old myth of the artist as a lone genius and the artwork as a single person’s creation. When people are invited to participate, they are given agency and the power to change their narrative resulting in much stronger and unpredictable images. The final pictures are an amalgamation of photography, collage, writing and painting — it’s always exciting when an artist does not feel restricted by their own medium and is willing to explore further avenues.
Front Yard is a truly bond-making and barrier-shattering activity that couldn’t have been more welcome in times of isolation and individualism. As Ashima Yadava observes, "while humanity is fighting a global disease — with isolation and distrust, perhaps the antidote is in the collaborative sowing of seeds that represent, affirm, and bind us all."
— foreword by Zak R. Dimitrov
The front yard is as much a metaphor as it is a space. Homes reflect the material successes of their inhabitants, their aesthetic tastes, and concrete the ties that bind family, lovers, and friends. When the shelter-in-place order was announced in March and time came to a proverbial standstill, I turned to my community to make portraits of people in their front yards.
The slow pace of using both digital and analog large format cameras, simultaneously, gave me time to reflect on my role as a photographer. I decided to disrupt the usual one-sided gaze so problematic in documentary photography by opening up the process to collaboration. Making large format black and white prints, I invited these families to color or embellish them however they liked. While one set of images are my observations — revealing tension, guardedness, and at times a reflective silence. The other set inverts the process, where people draw their imagination onto the photographs and coloring how they want it to be seen. It is a more in-depth conversation of the perceived realities and how easy it is to break barriers of judgment by opening our worlds to each other. While humanity is fighting a global disease — with isolation and distrust, perhaps the antidote is in the collaborative sowing of seeds that represent, affirm, and bind us all.
Art inputs by:
— Krish Iyer & Mayura Iyer;
— Amann, Kabir, Priya Satia & Aprajit Mahajan;
— Hamida Banu Chopra;
— Aria, Smita & Manoj;
— Nitya & Arvind Kansal;
— Sonya Pelia & Jasleen Pelia-Lutzker.