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Dayanita Singh

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1961, New Delhi
Lives and works in New Delhi

Dayanita Singh is a visual artist working primarily in the medium of photography. Her background in Photojournalism is a great stimulus to her body of work, focussing on the highly dramatic to the highly nuanced. She also uses the book format to play with pictorial narratives and uses these as exhibition pieces.



Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the International Center of Photography, New York


Visual Communication from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India



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Dayanita Singh's initiation into photography began with an encounter with Zakir Hussain

It started off as an accident that Dayanita Singh was asked to shoot Zakir Hussain after a brief untoward encounter at a concert of the tabla maestro while she was on a graduate project. In 1986 Dayanita Singh’s first book came out as a result of chronicling six winters of travel with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. This was the turning point for her when she decided to take up photography.
This project marks a rite of passage for her artistic life as it moulded her aesthetics even for later. The black and white images coupled with texts create a dialogue between image and text, and the ordering of images forms the narratives in the books. Her assertion about finding muses away from photography also found resonance with this first project with music being a thread through these images.

Dayanita Singh, pages from the book Zakir Hussain, 1986, Himalayan books, 80 pages, 8.4 x 9.6”.

Dayanita prefers taking black and white photographs rather than coloured ones

She has an overwhelming inclination towards taking black and white photographs rather than coloured ones. Right from her first project Zakir Hussain to her celebrated File Room, the books are repositories of black and white images. She says, “... it is extremely difficult to shoot in colour, to find a language of one’s own that is not determined by what exists.” With black and white images, there is a certain freedom of expressivity that she manages to capture. She is also acutely aware and knowledgeable on the different tonalities that she would want along with the kind of prints like the silver gelatine print while producing her prints in the laboratory.

Although her oeuvre extends mostly to black and white images, she has also marked her photographic intensity and fervour with highly saturated coloured images, most notably in Dream Villa.

Dayanita Singh, pages from the book Dream Villa, 2010

Her works attempt to explore the relationship between text and image

Dayanita Singh’s works secures an ambit where image and text provides a complimentary articulation. In her works, the written word accompanying the photographs assumes a great deal of significance and in the way it is read in relation to the image in conjunction. One of the recurring pre-occupations of the artist in her oeuvre is how the text creates a visual language in its own.

House of Love, 2011, takes on the identity of a photographic fiction consisting of nine short stories. A project done with writer Aveek Sen, his prose interspersed within a book of her photographs renders a new meaning of a visual book.

Dayanita Singh, pages from the bookHouse of Love, 2011

Archives as Subjects- Her works show an obsession with the past

The artist’s attraction towards archives comes to satiation in File Room, 2013. This particular work shows images of dusty, moth-ridden piles of files that mark the archives of such a vastly populated country. They stand as a testimony of a past, facing an existential crisis in the throes of a digital age. These remnants allude to ideas of history writing, record-keeping and memory of all facets that make up a nation and its people.

Fascinated by the archives and their presentation in rows and columns of cupboards in the bureaucratic offices, Dayanita has also reassigned her exhibitionary vision accordingly. For the display of her works, she creates structures and cases that resemble actual cupboards like File Museum, 2012.

Dayanita Singh, pages from File Room, 2013.

Dayanita Singh, File Museum, 2012, 1 large and 3 small Burma teak structures, 140 archival pigment prints, 74 x 43.3 x 18.7” (large structure), 13.1 x 13.1 x 3.9” (3 small structure), 12.2 x 12.2” (each print framed).

Her identity merges the duality of a photographer and a bookmaker

Dayanita very consciously and particularly marks her identity as a bookmaker whose medium is photography. Her artistic practice transcends beyond the medium and embodies that of a visual storyteller instead. For her, all her artistic muses stem from cinema, literature and music, and not necessarily from photography itself.

She has been collaborating with German publisher Gerhard Steidl for her projects where her photographs are given the shape of books. It is this well-known printer and publisher who reinforced her identity foregoing one that of only a photographer, settling for one that of a bookmaker who uses photography. Photography then becomes not the end but the means of visual narration, sometimes accompanied by texts.

Book covers of Dayanita Singh’s Blue Book, 2009, published by Steidl