Vocabulary of an Image

Why can't people read photographs? It's not a question, but a reflection that sets the premise for an evening with Dayanita Singh. A bookmaker who works with photography, an artist who presents images on various surfaces and in myriad contexts, a photographer whose work is a visual narrative, Singh subscribes to the idea of "the mobility of an image". For more than three decades now, Singh has been finding eclectic ways to present her photographs. "The medium will be at a dead end, unless we find new forms in photography," said Singh, who presented a slide show of her works and charted her "not so black and white journey" during the ongoing Amrita Sher-Gil National Art Week.

Her first photographic series documented tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, one she describes as her ticket to freedom. "It was at his concert where I was pushed by the organiser and could not take photographs. I went up to Hussain, who told me to come to his hotel the next morning and it was here that I was drawn to the idea of becoming a photographer," said Singh, who has travelled with the musician for many years now.

"I was at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and decided to come up with a book about the institute. With interviews, photographs and layouts, it became my first book in 1986," said Singh. Bringing together words and images, starting with this one, Singh now has 10 books to her credit. She "traded her dowry" to study in New York, which was followed by a stint in photojournalism. "I got $10,000 from Robert Frank to do a project, and it allowed me a sense of freedom that I can't describe. Yes, my life does sound like a Hindi film story," said Singh.

Her earliest photographic series are in black-and-white, and she still mostly used black-and-white film, with digital technology completely missing from her bag. "I shoot from my belly," she said and laughed out loud. Making books with hands, Singh likes to work away from galleries and talks about her dissemination of photography.

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