Black, White and Blue
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While artist-photographer Dayanita Singh's images are contemplative, gut-wrenching and haunting, her books are often an experimental, playful dialogue with the viewer. The books cover a dramatic arc — from the pithy documentary style of Myself Mona Ahmed (1999), which is about 10 years in the life of a feisty eunuch, to the sensuous coffee-table portraits of Privacy (2004); from the austere Go Away Closer (2007) which was bereft of text to Sent a Letter (2008), a beautifully crafted set of seven accordion books fitted into a linen box, where she playfully flirted with pocket-sized books. With Blue Book, she emulated the postcard format of detachable cards that can travel across countries, while Dream Villa's address book format cut right through some of the psychedelic images.
Her latest, self-titled book is a handful: a mini retrospective in hardback. Lovers of Dayanita's work will be warmly rewarded as they now have a ready reckoner that charts a selection of her work, from the 1990s to 2010. For those who are newly curious about her oeuvre, here is a compendium to familiarise yourself with her spaces and people. The book had accompanied her eponymous solo in Madrid this year.
Dayanita began her journey as a photographer by not wanting to be one. Her mother Nony Singh was constantly photographing her as a child and Dayanita had developed a dislike for photography. However, it was only later when she went to cover an event where tabla maestro Zakir Hussain was performing that she discovered the fire in her. Pushed and shoved by all the male photographers straining to get a shot of Hussain, she tripped and fell over. In that state, she said rather loudly, "Today I am not able to take a photograph of you Mr Hussain but one day I will be a famous photographer and you will want to pose for me." Her gumption got her a special photo-shoot with Hussain and she spent hours with her muse, capturing him in an exclusive set of images. She went on to study at the International Centre for Photography in New York. There she discovered that the world of disaster and exotic photography did not suit her at all.
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