Some of our friends have been intrigued by the images we’ve used to construct our website and we wondered if perhaps others too are curious about the visual contents of the website. So we thought we’d run a short series of blogs to take you through some of the thinking behind our choice of images and what we think they say.

Now, one of the things you learn very quickly when setting up a website is that images can either make or sink your website. No wonder we began to discuss what images we should use very early on. We started with the three main conceptual terms of the project—conversion, translation and autobiography. We realized very quickly that since all three are quite abstract they don’t lend themselves naturally to visual representation. The only obvious images we could think of were front covers or title pages of published conversion autobiographies. But this conjured up an image of a dreary website peppered with dull black-and-white images of books. Who (apart from ourselves) would wish to visit such a website again?

Finding images that are striking and yet speak beyond the immediacy of their own visual content is hard. The challenge has been not to use the many colourful images related to religions in India: they may be stunning but with no direct conceptual link to the themes of the project, they wouldn’t be saying much. One solution appeared to be to use images to evoke some of the ideas of the project tangentially and thereby provoke viewers to engage with the themes of the project. To ask: what does this image have to do with the project?

Take for instance the image of the tree with bright strings tied to its three branches that you may have seen on the ‘project’ page: it is a very familiar sight in India and instantly brings to mind hundreds of sacred sites all over the subcontinent where one might see ‘prayer’ or ‘wish’ strings tied to monuments, tombs or trees. Such sites have attracted people from across the religious spectrum and often held up as wonderful examples of the religious tolerance and liberality of the subcontinent. But surely this requires further unpacking and thinking about. It is hard to link this practice to any particular religious tradition because there is a shared realm of practices and experiences, an underlying fluidity or even ambiguity where it’s hard to say where one person’s faith ends and another’s begins. This raises pertinent questions regarding what kinds of sacred boundaries are set up or crossed and when. What conceptual parallels across religions allow individuals from very different sets of belief systems to put their faith in one simple action—tying a string around a tree and ‘praying’ or ‘making a wish’—at a site collectively recognized as ‘sacred’? Does this faith act operate at the edge of words, inner faith translated into outward action, by which individuals speak of themselves beyond language…and yet in a manner comprehensible to a million others?