What's going on in this picture?

What can you infer about the content of a photograph by analyzing it? In this project I have chosen three photographs from The New York Times Learning Network’s bank of 40 intriguing images, all stripped of their captions or context, to practise visual thinking and close reading skills.

Image 1

Blue Veils

Muslim women shopping at a local store selling blue burqas. The compact store with make-do hooks to hang goods is teeming with long blue Islamic garments with subtle differences in shades and embroideries.

Asking three questions


1. What's going on in this image?


Women in burqas are shopping at a small local burqa store. A man from the store staff (maybe the owner) is placing the scissors back hung on a wooden overhead staff.


2. What do you see that makes you say that?


The blue garments hanging resemble a lot with the burqas worn by the woman in focus. It is not wrong to infer that it is a burqa store. The make-do hooks to hang scissors and polybags suggest that the store is very compact

and small. It is not wrong to assume that the staff member is a male from looking at his arm.


3. What more can you find?


Activity- women looking at the garments, staff member placing his scissors back

Environment- The store is compact, many burqas are on display

Interactions- Using scissors, walking down the narrow aisle

Objects: Scissors, polythene bags of two sizes, burqas, a packed bag hung separately

Users- Multiple burqas on display suggest that it is a store which only sells blue burqas

Emotions-It is hard to detect emotions as their facial expressions and body language are veiled


Thick Description


Zoya, a 20-year-old Muslim girl, lives in Sarozai village of Hangu district in Pakistan. She goes to a women’s community college which is 1.5km away from her house to study Home Science. On weekdays, she wakes up at 6 am and starts her day in the kitchen. She begins by heating water for her bath and cooking breakfast and lunch for the family. After taking a bath and getting dressed, she wakes up her parents with tea and her two little brothers with glasses of warm milk. By this time, it is already 8:30 am. She quickly covers herself in one of her burqas before leaving for college with two of her classmates who are also her neighbors. The three of them walk together for 20 minutes before reaching college.


On weekends, she visits the Itvaar Bazaarwith her mother which is the local market of Sarozai held every Sunday from 4 pm to 11 pm. Zoya and her mother always wear their burqas as they step out of the house. Their burqas are long and blue with machine embroidery along the sleeves. There is a delicate mesh on the face veil which lets them see through it. Zoya and her mother usually visit the bazaar early to get the best radish and cabbage. While her mother picks the produce and pays the vendors, Zoya carries the vegetables in her hand-sewn cloth bag. Sometimes, her two little brothers tag along with them and cajole their mother into buying them plastic toys. Zoya also likes to come to the market early so that they can leave early. As the sun sets, it gets harder to see anything through the burqa mesh.


Zoya is also responsible for organizing the living room along with her room. She dusts the vases and furniture, changes covers and sheets and organizes her almirah. The top two shelves of the metal almirah belong to her and the bottom two belong to her brothers. She neatly stacks her kameez (shirts) and salwar (bottoms) on the first shelf and all her burqas in the second one. Her favorite one is blue burqa with sequin embroidery which her aunt got for her from Karachi as an Eid present. Her family buys something new for each family member and close relatives for Eid-ul-fitar. This year Zoya’s mother bought her a kameez and a new burqa after 2 years. They went to a local shop called Kohinoor Burqa Shopwhich sells ready-made burqas of different sizes and materials. They also do custom stitching if someone wants to use their own fabric. Kohinoor is owned by Zoya’s father’s childhood friend whose family runs the shop. Zoya’s mother has been buying burqas from Kohinoor for decades now. It is important for her and now for Zoya that the burqas are of good quality and are purchased at a reasonable rate. They trust Kohinoor for the best rate and a safe, comfortable shopping experience.

Image 2

Wanderlust and desert dust.
A group of tourists of different ages exploring the beauty of a white desert. Children are involved in fun activities while the elders seem to be relaxed in absorbing the scenic nature around them.

Ask three questions


1. What’s going on in this picture?

There are different kinds of vehicles in the image. People are visiting the white desert as tourists perhaps. A father is riding on an ATV and pulling the cars of his kids. An old couple is driving their car and looking at the father and his sons. This place seems to be planned and well known. 

2. What do you see that makes you say that? 

The parking spots and tent structures make it seem like a well-known and planned space. People can be using their own vehicles or renting ATVs, trucks or kid cars.


3.What more can you find?


Activity- Driving cars, trucks and ATVs.

Environment- Vast white desert with clear blue skies, planned space 

Interactions- Kid pretending to drive, holding on fast to the rope

Objects- Vehicles, tent structures, orange traffic cones

Users- Looks like this place is mostly visited by tourists and tour operators

Emotions- Father is concerned for his two kids, old couple delighted to the father and his sons

Thick Description

Daniel aka Danny, who is 36 years old and a father of two young boys is a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah. He works as a senior software engineer in a technology company called Simplus. He has a master’s degree in Information Technology. Daniel’s work is very time consuming and takes up most of the time of his day. He goes to his office from 8 am to 6 pm Monday to Thursday and works from home on Fridays. Most of the days, he has to work a few hours at home beyond work hours. His office is a 20-minute ride from his home, which adds another 40 minutes. Daniel is discontented with his work-life balance and wishes that he had more time to spend with his wife and children.

He was born and raised in Marfa, Texas in a military family. He has always been good at sports and athletics as his father gave utmost importance to fitness. However, he can hardly find any time for working out during the week and is concerned about his health. He likes to watch sports on television while working at home. He enjoys teaching his kids about sports. He takes them out to local parks and playgrounds and teaches them basic skills and rules for different sports. It also helps him to stay fit and active.

On some weekends he takes his kids to Bonneville Salt Flats as his kids love the uniqueness of the vast white desert. The boys love skating in the desert while he watches them have fun. Sometimes, he rents an ATV for himself and enjoys riding that freely in the desert. His kids love the ATV and want one for themselves when they grow up. Daniel sometimes brings his kids’ mini cars in his truck to the Salt Flats and ties them to the back of the ATV. He then drives around in the desert pulling his kids behind him.

Despite a hectic schedule, Daniel finds out time for his family at least on weekends. It is important for him to teach his kids about sports just like his dad taught him.

Image 3

Back Home
Boy jumping on the sofa set as he returned to his house after long. The war struck area had been deserted for long before the unrest died and people came back home.

Ask three questions


1. What’s going on in this picture?


A boy about 7 years old is jumping on the sofa set of what looks like an abandoned house in a war-affected area. People are revisiting their houses after the attack has ended and things have settled down.


2. What do you see that makes you say that? 


The gunshots on the walls, debris on the floor and the dilapidated building which can be seen from the window tell us that this area was affected by some kind of militant attack or war. The body language of the child and people in the background suggest that it is safe to be in this area. The boy looks well-groomed which suggests that he was not stuck in this area but is visiting. In my opinion, a child would be allowed to visit such a place only if he is visiting his own home. His playfulness depicts his familiarity with the place.


3. What more can you find? 


Activities: Videographer recording, young men accompanying the videographer,a man looking at his phone old man looking through the debris

Environment: Daytime in war hit zone. It is deserted with only a few people visiting.

Interaction: Shooting video, using phone

Object: Sofa set, broken window, debris, demolished buildings, flower vase, broken furniture

Users: People seem like visitors who have come to see and record the present state of this place

Emotions: People seem calm but amused

Thick Description


Ahmed, a 7-year-old Afghani boy lives in Herat. He used to go to school in this war-torn Afghani city until a few months ago. His school was 2kms from his home and his mother used to walk him to school every day. Ahmed is a jovial boy and had many friends at school. He loved playing soccer with his friends at school and would often invite his friends home for lunch. His mother used to cook delicious meat with shorba for the group of boys and they were ever thankful to her. Ahmed was close to his father as well and took math lessons from him regularly. His father was a maths teacher in a local college and loved helping his son navigate through numbers. Ahmed used to leave early for school at 6 am and returned home by 2 pm. He would then have lunch and sleep for a while. His father was back home by 5 pm and then the two would sit together to go through what Ahmed learned in class that day. A bright student, Ahmed was regular in submitting his home-works and often helped his friends in studies.


The lives of many including Ahmed changed in the last decade when a continuous war demolished his town. No one had thought that the war which was expected to get over soon when it had started, would stretch on for so long and destroy cities in its wake. Militants were continuously on the rise in Afghanistan and Herat turned out to be one of their key war bases. In 2005, as a part of retaliation by the government, there was a huge battle in the city which destroyed several homes and killed many people. Ahmed’s life turned upside down after that battle. He was not home when a militant manhunt turned into a full-blown armed battle between the government and militants, just a few hundred meters from his home. There was intense firing and all of a sudden Ahmed’s house was targeted by a rocket launcher while his mother was still inside. Ahmed could not believe what he saw when he came back home. His father immediately picked him up and fled the city. 


2 years later, Ahmed and his father came back to their home. Ahmed was not sure what he was feeling when they entered the house. He started crying seeing the destroyed house which was once his joyful home. It took him some time to get back to senses and then he started to touch and feel all the things that he had to leave behind. The couch in the living room was where his father used to teach him maths and it was his favorite place in the house. He suddenly became excited remembering all this and his joy made him jump on the couch. His father was surprised as well as happy to see his son smiling after a long time. Several other people also returned to this area in Herat as the war cooled off in this part of Afghanistan. They all had mixed emotions of sadness and belonging. And they were all looking forward to rebuilding their lives in their home city, just like Ahmed was.

Third Place Ethnography

1. Austin Public Library

I chose the Central Branch of Austin Public Library located at 710 W Cesar Chavez St as my Third Place. Austin Public Library (APL) is a dynamic community centre in the middle of Austin which aims to provide easy access to books and technology and build a community.


Austin Public Library is a six-story architectural marvel made accessible by intersecting bridges and stairs which foster serendipitous human connections.

People of all ages visit the public library with their belongings to spend time and engage in various activities.


The huge space offers a variety of seating options which people can choose from to talk, read or work.

The library is spacious, greatly furnished and very well lit leveraging the powerful Texas sun. 

Austin Public Library levels all the social hierarchies and encourages people to relax, converse and engage with each other.


Activities: People streaming Youtube, watching movies, observing others, drinking beverages, munching on snacks,


Environment: Library is resourceful and furnished very well. It houses thousands of books, hundreds of computers and provides quality furniture and sufficient artificial lighting. It has several large glass windows and doors which let the sunlight to flourish inside.


Interaction: People are comfortably seated in their chairs and are busy exploring the internet. Some have their headphones on, while some are engaged with each other. People are distributed across space and indulged in different activities.


Objects: Furniture, wooden bookshelves, wooden ceiling, computers, backpacks and polybags belonging to the visitors, various lamps.


Users: In this section, there are mostly adult men. This working space is close to the Non-fiction book section which is generally unattractive to kids.


Emotions: Their body language suggests that they are comfortable and relaxed in the space. However, the conversation could be a stimulating one which is turning people's heads.




Interviews with The Regulars

"Internet and

Religion Books"

Shihhsin Chang

68 years old Shihhsin is a resident of Austin who loves coming to Austin Public Library.


Since his retirement from his work, he has started visiting the library more frequently than ever. He visits the library 4 to 5 days a week and typically spends 6 hours per day.


When asked what brings him to the library, he says "Internet and Religion Books".

"It's a beautiful library!"

Name Unknown

He visits the library once or twice every week. He likes picking up books from here. He was picking up HTML/CSS books to build his own website.


He also visits the University library sometimes, but the walk from the bus stop to that library makes it less accessible for him. He never uses a computer at this library as he has one at home. He likes to look around and check out books.


When asked about his favourite thing about the library, he immediately responded, "Everything! It's a beautiful Library!"



"Totally worth it!"

Daniel and Meghann



Daniel and Meghann decided to take a break this day. They went for a movie, had lunch and still had two hours to spare before they had to go back to their baby. They decided to visit the library to enjoy the weather, relax and have coffee.


When asked about what they like to do at the library, they answered, " We like to have meetings here, buy stuff, have drinks, wander around bookshelves, and just relax! We have to travel a little but it is totally worth it!"



The rooftop garden is one of the most coveted places in the building to curl up with a book or witness stunning views of the Austin downtown skyline.

Although Austin Public Library has a starkly different infrastructure from that of a regular home, it provides a sense of comfort and belonging to its regular clientele which makes it a great good third place.

2. Mozart's Coffee Roaster

Mozart's Coffee Roasters is more than just a coffee shop located by Lake Austin. They offer home-roasted coffee and desserts.

It is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

Mozart's offers a handsome variety of choices in beverages and desserts. Hence, it is an attraction for people who enjoy these, at all times of the day.

Quirky Mozart's


The different sizes of coffee cups available are displayed at the counter to provide visual cues for the customers. There is a coffee motif mural on one of the walls. All these elements and more reflect that coffee lies in the very essence of Mozart's cafe.

A low profile​


Mozart's provides a great lake view overlooking the hills on Lake Austin. However, in totality Mozart's maintains a low profile. It has an outdoor seating on the deck as well as an indoor seating with glass walls.


There are ample wooden tables and benches to accomodate hundreds of people. The vast lake and the docks in the view are objects of wonder for people sitting on the deck. The dated and outworn furnishings are plain and unimpressive. This plainness brings out the homeliness in Mozart's.


The trees bring relief from the strong sunlight. The hanging lanterns, small plants and assorted eclectic furniture adds to the rustic and idyllic feel of the place.

A home away from home

Activity: Man is stretching his leg on the bench with his headphones on, woman has her headphones on. Both of them seem to be working on or watching something on their laptops. Drinking and eating.

Environment: It is early evening as can be seen from the shadows. It is still very sunny. The patio looks dated and the benches look roughly crafted and worn out. This suggest that this place is very old.

Interaction: The man and woman are working although not interacting with anything else.

Objects: The furniture, lamps, plugs, tree and railing in the background. On the front table, there are sunglasses, highlighter, bag, laptop, notebook, hydroflask. The laptop screen is open. It seems like someone has been sitting on this table, but has gone away for a short time.

Users: A man and a woman.

Emotions: Those two people are focussed on their work but their body language is relaxed.

Interviews with The Regulars

"I am more productive here. It is also very relaxing."

Aasha, 26



A resident of East Austin, Aasha, likes to come down to Mozart's once a month to get away from the busy lifestyle. She comes here with her friends sometimes, but usually she likes to be alone. She says she is more productive here. However, when probed further, she admitted that she just likes to relax and enjoy the weather and the quiet.​


"I like listening to the birds while working."

Amy and Courtney



Two school teachers, Amy and Courtney, were visiting Mozart's for the first time as they were out. They wanted to work and have good coffee at the same time. They looked up nearest coffee shops on Google Maps, liked Mozart's pictures and decided to visit.

When asked what do they like about Mozart's so far, both of them said "The view!" at the same time. Courtney was particularly excited to try the coffee and desserts. She said that she also likes the rustic feel of the patio and listening to the birds while working.


Mozart's is more than just a coffee shop. It's an experience. It levels all the social hierarchies and its plain ambience brings a homely character to the place. People come from all walks of life to participate in a collegial atmostphere, indulging in conversations ranging from ambitions and plans of the future to the comforting discussions surrounding the mundane characteristics of everyday life, all the while overlooking the tranquility of Lake Austin. It's not to say that this place isn't for the lone wolf, looking for a serene environment to focus while sipping the beverage of choice.


It is lowkey, it is playful, it is helping conversations flow. It is a great good third place.

Attempts at becoming a better designer

Design Challenges

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