Black, white and everything else
Dayanita Singh is not just a celebrated photojournalist. Apart from authoring photo-books and colour photographs for a while now, she remains one of the few respected women specialists in her craft. In a freewheeling chat, she shares her take on life behind the camera, her inspirations and the current state of photography
Long before the digital revolution in photography, India had put forward several exceptionally talented photographers who captured India for the world in their black and whites. Of them, the number of female photographers is even less, the most famous being the legendary Homai Vyarawalla. Another name that pops into one’s mind is Dayanita Singh.
A student from Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, Singh works from her personal projects and her stint as a photojournalist have been lauded all over the world.
Apart from her exhibitions, Singh has also received critical success for her books such as Zakir Hussain and Myself Mona Ahmed. We caught up with the photographer who was recently in the city for Literature Live! where she shared the dais with author Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi in a talk on photo fiction.
Excerpts from an interview:
To what extent do you feel that technology has affected and changed photography? Has it made photography easier and more approachable?
Photography has become what it set out to be — a universal medium. Digital technology has made image-making possible to anyone, even with a mobile phone. So yes, photography is much more accessible. This is wonderful but also brings the challenge of what next, because picture making is no longer the challenge. It’s now about what ‘you’ bring to that image-making and what form you give the work.
Could you share with us any of your memories about your first attempts with photography?
My very first attempts at photography made me realise how photography could actually be my ticket to freedom in life.
What are your favourite themes and subjects?
They change all the time, these days I am fascinated by paper archives, rooms full of paper, offices, record rooms full of stories.
Could you tell us a bit about your experience as a photojournalist?
I learned about the dissemination possible with photography through being a photojournalist. This quality I am still exploring, even within the art world.
People, objects, places — what inspires you to capture a moment the most?
What inspires me the most is the books I read; writers like Calvino and Geoff Dyer; and musicians inspire me very much.
You are known for your black-and-whites. Who do you think wins the colour versus black-and-white war today, with everything going HD and several megapixels?
It does not matter whether you make photos in colour or in black-and-white or with film or with digital, what you bring to the image is what matters.
What are your favourite places or themes to shoot in Mumbai?
Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mani Bhavan and artist Sudarshan Shetty’s apartment in Chembur.
Who are your favourite photographers?
Robert Frank. Because photography was his tool, not an end in itself, and he constantly found a language of his own from photography.
What are you working on, currently?
I am making a File Museum, which is a large structure that has all the images of my file rooms in it.