Assignment 5 – The Rulers of Oudh – selection and layout

There is so much material to work with! To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed in the beginning and didn’t know where to start. The initial idea was to make triptychs that showed the decay of the objects and how the connection with the Rulers of Oudh disintegrates over time. However, the more I read from Princes Sakina’s notes, I realized that I wanted to focus on the personalities and dynamics of the family members as well.

Through using the photos that had been given to me and that I had found in the ruin, I was able to construct much more of a narrative in which the visuals enforce the text and vise versa.

Below are my first trials of the triptychs. I soon realized that design is not my forte and bought a photo book template from This gave me just the push that I needed to continue and be motivated.

Cyrus try outs-2

Cyrus try outs-1

Here is my first trial, I added a newspaper clipping in order to put everything in context. I decided to use exactly the same font, punctuation and capitalization as the princess used in her notes. It gives more insight in her confused mind and shows which elements of her story are stressed.

1st Book

After the first trial I realized that the story needed more context and smaller narratives to gain a greater understanding of what had happened. I added a newspaper article of which I find that it describes the lives of the prince and princess in the forest very well and explains about the death of their mother in a clear and engrossing way.

I also felt I needed to add the story of my own relationship with Cyrus and how I came to know in and got hold of all the material. I have not made it too personal, because I still feel that I should have visited him more in his final months. I don’t own this story, nor want to claim to have had a special relationship with him. I could have been a much better friend, and I still find it hard that he died all alone.

2n Book

I wanted to remove some of the visual noise and thought the titel of the book would be visible enough in the photograph itself. So this was the next result:

3th Book

I have added an extra newspaper article that talks more about how they ended up at the Railway Station, and their trials and tribulations there. I also moved around other images and decided to bring more variety in the photographs.

4th Book

Back to adding a title, because I realize the front image is not strong enough to let the words pop out as a title. I have also added a written note of the princes, because it gives an idea of what her handwriting looked like and her confused way of thinking.

So this is the result, I am sure I can make more changes, but I am eager to hear feedback from my tutor first.

Final Book


Final thoughts and questions:

  • Should I write captions with the photographs so that it is clear which are mine? I think that if you read the story it is all quite obvious, but still… Maybe I should add a part with captions only?
  • Does the layout do justice to the story and does it bring across the heaviness of it, the struggles of the people involved, but also the craziness of the whole situation? Can people actually draw the conclusion that the mother was really stubborn and sort of ruined her kids lives? On the other hand, shouldn’t I leave the interpretation to the readers?
  • Was it good to add so much text?

Exercise – The Ethics of Aesthetics

Personally I think Chaskielberg’s work is a refreshing approach to documentary photography. I don’t think it is up to me to decide whether it is too beautiful or not, whether it does justice to the suffering these people go through or whether it is ethical for Oxfam to use such an approach in the first place. It obviously worked in raising a record amount of financial support.

Of course from here the discussion starts about the efficiency and sense of development aid in the first place, with its questions about dependency on aid, the business side of NGOs, how the money is spent and results in the long term.

What I miss in this discussion, is a connection with the West. In order to not be stifled by the images, or be able to make a significant change that goes beyond making a donation, I think photography and maybe campaigns that are targeted at people in the West should focus much more on how all our lives are intertwined through climate change, capitalism and overconsumption in the West. Instead of only focusing on how people in development countries live and suffer, these campaigns should activate the viewers in the West to not only donate money, but take responsibility for the way they live themselves.

For example, next to the daily food ration of an Ethiopian nomad, I would like to see an image of the amount of food we throw away on a daily basis, or the effect of our meat consumption on climate change.

I would like to see images that teach us viewers on how we should make a change, besides just triggering a short lived sympathy of making a donation.

All these approaches are still about ‘us’ and ‘them’, while the problems these people face are a result of how we live, and which we will face as well.