The Photo Show: NPR

Nitya Kansal (left) and her husband, Arvind Kansal (right), pose in front of their home in Cupertino, California.

Art input by Nitya Kansal/Ashima Yadava


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Art input by Nitya Kansal/Ashima Yadava

Ashima Yadava's project Front yard captures a moment when we were all looking for connection. In 2020, the pandemic gave Yadava time to reflect, so she turned to photography. She turned to her community, reached out to her entire network, and wanted to take portraits of them from their front yards, at a safe distance of six feet.

“On a whim, I sent an email to my entire network of neighbors and friends in the area saying, 'I want to capture this time we're in. Can I please take a portrait of you?' Yadava recalls.

“And because we had to keep our distance, I thought, 'I'll do it across the street from your house, so can it be in your front yard?' And the first wave of responses was brilliant. People were like, 'Oh, yeah! I haven't seen a person in a month!' “

Hamida Bano (right) and her husband, Dr.  Anil Chopra (left), with their daughter Nasreen Chopra (center) at their home in Orinda, California, in April 2020.

Hamida Bano (right) and her husband, Dr. Anil Chopra (left), with their daughter Nasreen Chopra (center), at their home in Orinda, California, in April 2020.

Ashima Yadava


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Ashima Yadava

Sunitha Seshadri (left), an engineer by profession, with her daughter Shriya, her son Veer (right) and husband Harshit Chuttani (center) outside their home in Campbell.

Sunitha Seshadri (left), an engineer by profession, with her daughter Shriya, her son Veer (right) and her husband Harshit Chuttani (center), outside their home in Campbell, California.

Art input by Sunitha Seshadri/Ashima Yadava


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Art input by Sunitha Seshadri/Ashima Yadava

Sonya Pelia (right) and her husband Mathew Lutzker (left) live in Menlo Park, California.  Following the shelter-in-place order in March, their daughter Jasleen (center) had to return home from university in Edinburgh, Scotland.  May 2020.

Sonya Pelia (right), her husband Mathew Lutzker (left) and their daughter Jasleen Pelia-Lutzker in Menlo Park, California, in May 2020.

Ashima Yadava


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Ashima Yadava

Yadava's project was welcomed with enthusiasm and positivity by people who were excited to share their space with her. Families came out to set up their things. She stood across the street with her large format and digital cameras, ready to take their portraits.

As the project progressed, the work developed into a more personal reflection. She began to realize how this work helped her reclaim her relationship with the medium and her role as a photographer.

“I grew up in India. The one thing about documentary photography that bothered me and made me feel a little weird about documentary photography [are] that power dynamic that comes with photographing someone – it's your perspective: it's one perspective. It is one story,” Yadava said.

“Having a camera that was so slow gave me time to explore my relationship with what I was doing and the people I was photographing.”

Noreen Raza enjoys the strange spring of April 2020 with her husband, Harry Robertson, at their home in Morgan Hill, California.

Noreen Raza (right) enjoys the strange spring of April 2020 with her husband, Harry Robertson (left), at their home in Morgan Hill, California.

Art input by Noreen Raza/Ashima Yadava


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Art input by Noreen Raza/Ashima Yadava

Nitya and Arvind Kansal with their dog Kuku, seen here in the front yard of their home in Cupertino, California in April 2020.

Nitya and Arvind Kansal pose with their dog Kuku in front of their home in Cupertino, California, in April 2020.

Ashima Yadava


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Ashima Yadava

Art input by Shriya Manchanda (center left), a rising senior, with her sister Sanvitti (right) and parents Shruti and Alok Manchanda (left) in Sunnyvale, California.

Shriya Manchanda (center left), a rising senior, with her sister Sanvitti (right) and parents Shruti (center right) and Alok Manchanda (left) in front of their home in Sunnyvale, California.

Art input by Shriya Manchanda/Ashima Yadava


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Art input by Shriya Manchanda/Ashima Yadava

“I got the negative back and started printing, just to see and study if I was doing it right and getting the colors right. Somewhere at that point I thought, 'Wait. What if I give this back to the people?' and continue this conversation about how they want to be perceived? I she saw, this is what it is, but how do you do that? she want to be seen and do something she should I say?' “

Thus began this collaboration to make those she photographed part of the process. These black and white prints were suddenly brought to life by colors and drawings that these families worked on together.

“They would work on it as families — they would argue about it, they would talk about it, they would text me back and forth, 'Do you think we can do this?' It was really a collaboration. It was something that saved us all at the time, because I would enjoy that. I would say, 'Yes, do what you want!' “

Each family contributed a unique perspective to their portraits and what emerged was a beautiful vignette of the different ethnicities that make up the Bay Area.

Manju Ramachandran, in the front yard of her Sunnyvale home with her son Varun (above right).

Manju Ramachandran stands in the front yard of her home in Sunnyvale, California, with her son Varun.

Art input by Manju Ramachandran/Ashima Yadava


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Art input by Manju Ramachandran/Ashima Yadava

Weeks into the pandemic, Aishwarya Ramaswamy (left) and Mukundan Swaminathan were juggling their careers and parenthood, trying to keep their children Krish and Mayura busy.  Union City, California in April 2020.

Weeks into the pandemic, Aishwarya Ramaswamy (left) and Mukundan Swaminathan tried to juggle their careers and parenthood from their home in Union City, California, in April 2020, while trying to keep their children, Krish and Mayura, entertained.

Ashima Yadava


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Ashima Yadava

Sonya, Mathew and Jasleen Pelia outside their Menlo Park home.

Sonya Pelia (right) and her husband, Matthew Lutzker (left), with their daughter Jasleen Pelia-Lutzker, outside their home in Menlo Park, California.

Art input by Sonya Pelia and Jasleen Pelia-Lutzker/Ashima Yadava


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Art input by Sonya Pelia and Jasleen Pelia-Lutzker/Ashima Yadava

Yadava called it “reversing the process,” where she as the photographer documented her observation and sent black-and-white prints back to the families so they could share their feelings through the way they decided to fill in the image. Each family had a different perspective: some filled their pictures with flowers on branches, and others covered their walls with spiders. The results that emerged were always a joy for Yadava to discover.

Our homes have been a sacred place during the pandemic, and these families welcomed Yadava to get a glimpse into their reality. It emerged at a time of tragedy and disconnection, but lives on as a record of the times.

Since then, Yadava has continued the series and plans to release a book. Her decision to expand the project in a post-COVID world was fueled by the joyful exchange with families and how it can break down barriers between neighbors. With this collaboration, Yadava hopes that people will be reminded of the resilience of humanity and that we can find connections between us all if we open our world to it.

Smita (left) and Manoj (right) with their daughter Aria, outside their home in Milpitas, California.

Smita Rao (left) and Manoj Mhapankar (right) with their daughter Aria, outside their home in Milpitas, California.

Art input by Smita Rao and Manoj Mhapankar/Ashima Yadava


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Art input by Smita Rao and Manoj Mhapankar/Ashima Yadava

Ashima Yadava is a conceptual documentary photographer and graphic artist. She lives in San Francisco, where she works with digital and analog methods. See more of Ashima's work on her website, AshimaYadava.com.

Photo editing by Grace Widyatmadja. Edited by Zach Thompson.

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