A Significant Object – Exercise 3.7

Brief:- You probably own many significant objects, from a wedding ring to old clothes, trophies of achievement to mementos that recall special events or times of your life, like toys or records. Choose one of these to photograph. This mustn’t be a general thing like ‘flowers’ but something entirely specific to you. Respect the fact that this object matters to you. Photograph it carefully, thinking about how this object ought to be viewed through the camera. Consider the framing, viewpoint, background, placement, light and composition. Does the photograph (the representation) have the same meaning as the object itself ? Is there a difference? Now develop this exercise into a series of three photographs of similar objects. For example, if you chose to photograph your wedding ring, ask friends if you can photograph their wedding rings. If you photographed your home, photograph other people’s homes. Use exactly the same viewpoint, framing, lighting (as far as possible), background, etc., for each. This will help the three final photos fit together as a conclusive series. Look online at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together.

A significant object


This does not work for me at all. It is a series that I need to re shoot, or change to an alternate significant object, one in which I can recreate a significant object alongside similar objects. All three photos represent spirituality and an altar, but the backgrounds, positioning within the frame and composition are too far apart for this to work. With the Becher’s photos, the neutrality made their subjects stand out, but with my triptych there is no neutrality to give the object/subject definition.

It may work better if all of the alters were composed in an identical manner, and hight within the frame, but the third photo would need to have a similar coloured background. If I could arrange this then maybe the backgrounds with their own busyness would not matter as much. To be honest I think that I would prefer that to the bland neutrality of Becher. Although I do understand the point of the exercise. Similar objects which are  framed and composed in a similar manner, enhances the definition of the subjects.

I would like to re-shoot this exercise, but right now I am not going to. I would like to complete this part of the course work, and I am six weeks beyond the agreed deadline. I have one more exercise to shoot, and then to evaluate and select my stage photo for assignment three.


The comment below by Jenna has been incredibly helpful for me. Not seeing where the second photo, my significant object, fitted in with the other two – has given me the opportunity to consider why.

My significant object is my altar. I don’t see it as being a fireplace, because it’s not, it’s my altar, the spiritual centre of my home. This includes the crystals at the base, next to gohonzon, and the pictures either side and above. They all have spiritual significance to me. A Nichiren Buddhist would recognize the gohonzon and know this is my altar, but nobody else would.

Because I only see this as my altar then I didn’t even consider that others would not recognise it as being so, and there is some very useful learning here. If I am going to display something of importance to me, then I need to consider whether a non involved/non knowing person would see what I do. What will they see? If I think they couldn’t have the same ‘knowing’ of my significant object that I do, then how can I present it in a context that makes this more accessible.

I’m no longer feeling dejected. Nothing had changed with the series, it still doesn’t work, but learning is remarkably empowering.

Picture Credit

The third photo in the triptych is by Raina from the moon, of which she retains the copyright. Thankyou Raina.

20 Replies to “A Significant Object – Exercise 3.7”

  1. I did wonder what the link between the three were, I couldn’t figure out how the middle one connected with the other two.
    I like the symmetry in the images, especially that each has elements that act as uprights.
    I agree a similar coloured background would help with the third image. I love the repetition of diagonals in that image and the way that no matter where your eye enters the photo there is something that draws you to the head. I love the way the fronds in the background also frame the head and almost allow the eye to skirt around it, almost suggesting that we avoid looking directly at spirituality.
    In the first image I do like the way that the rails lead the eye from the bottom corners to the top of the altar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jenna. It doesn’t work as it is. The central image is my significant object. It’s my gohonzon, which contains the text of the lotus sutra in Japanese Kanji.

      I think there is a way to make it work, and maybe it’s about dropping the church and making use of another person’s alter as in the third photo.

      Thankyou for pointing out the strengths. I’m feeling a little dejected about the exercise, so it helps a lot.


      1. Hi Richard,
        I’ve read your update. I think that you’re right, having a more personnel altar rather than the church one would make a lot more sense. The church one is more communal but the other two are personal.

        I would be tempted to go with an altar that links to a similar religion and not one that has strong Western links.

        I think this has the possibility of being an interesting project if you included personal altars from lots of different religions and belief systems. I don’t have an altar as such but have a lot of things on top of a bookcase that have a spiritual link. As much as my religion at it’s core is Christian, it has gone through quite a bit of figuring out, and still is.


      2. I like your idea of turning it into a larger project, and initially I can find someone who is Buddhist or Hindu and make use of their personal altar.

        Your spiritual objects, are they linked to Christianity or more eclectic? My cousin is Christian but she is open to so much, seeing that all practice comes from God.


      3. There’s a bit of an eclectic mix on there.
        When I was a teenager and before I became a Christian I explored the occult and paranormal.
        A few years ago I was trying to reconcile a lot of things spiritually and started looking at Wicca and also Goddess worship. I couldn’t quite get comfortable with it, there was something missing. Some of the things on the altar are related to that.
        I then found a book by a Christian minister, who is also a poet, and in the book she refers to God as She rather than He. I’d not come across that concept and it clicked with me. Having spoken with someone about it, I found that it was a concept that others were exploring, and it brought me back around to Christianity. So there are also Christian elements on the altar as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thanks for sharing your journey and questioning of spirituality. The goddess was the representation of spiritual worship in many societies prior to christanity. I think it’s always good to question our beliefs and allow them to develop and grow. My belief system has an eclectic structure, but I also see it as a belief framework rather than a faith.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s really interesting reading the assignment and then your own and other’s responses. All great food for thought. I’m not knowledgeable about a series study such as this, but I somehow like the middle and right photos which both are Buddhist in nature; both have floral backgrounds (wallpaper and actual curvy green plants in the background). I also like the diagonals in the third photo. The one on the left seems out of place because it seems to be an altar and stained glass in a Christian church. The middle and right photos both drew me in, while I found myself glossing over the left one. I’m intrigued by these assignments. Thanks for sharing them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that I have found this post Richard….. I have read your comments / dialogue with Jenna and found it very interesting. However, without reading this my initial reaction was that I did think that it worked well, I got the connection between the church alter and your altar but wasn’t sure about the third picture until I read the comments. I think this was probably due to the fact that the third is visually quite different and for me aesthetically didn’t belong with the others but I think as you say a different arrangement for it would work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Visually the colours and composition work well with the first and second photo. I think that if I could obtain two more personal alters that were both shot with the same composition as my altar then it would be an excellent series. I like the third photo, and it does help that it’s a personal altar, and a third personal alter would be good either way.

      I’m glad that you did see the connection between the church and my photo. Thankyou.

      Liked by 1 person

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