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Camera lucida

Dayanita Singh on ‘The Photographer of Dream Villa’, the right questions to ask about photographs and why photography has finally arrived as the universal medium.

books Updated: Jul 09, 2010 23:50 IST
Hindustan Times

Dayanita Singh
Penguin Studio
Rs 5,999 pp 235

Why do you ask where I ‘took’ this photo and when? What does it satisfy other than your curiosity? Why not just experience the image, see if it evokes something in you?

Is it possible for a photograph to evoke emotion as music does? Is it possible for a suite of photos to work in your mind as a short story does? These are the questions I ask myself, these are the questions that brought me to Dream Villa.

The girl is the Photographer of Dream Villa, a world where nothing is as it seems to be, the world is topsy turvy. Dream Villa is alive at night, when the moon is out but the world is lit with artificial light.

I was immersed in the works of Italo Calvino when I made these works — that to me is the more interesting ‘question’. (What does it matter if I told you the image was made in Calcutta, with a Mamiya, late one night, on daylight film, printed on traditional paper? You think you’ve ‘got’ the image and you turn the page. But that is not why I make photographs. So I do not want to enter that discussion.)

You ask what camera I used. How does it matter, especially now when photography is no longer about the technique and ‘being there’. A fifth of the world’s population has access to photography. Photography has finally arrived as the universal medium it set out to be. What then will a photographer be?

I think it is perhaps more useful to think of photography as language. Many of us speak English, we use it to communicate, email, write; others use it to write poetry, some fiction, some essays, biographies, reportage. We could start to think of photographers in this way: Is she a novelist, a journalist, a diarist, a biographer...?

I think photography, now more than ever before, needs to look at the other arts — at music, at literature, at cinema. Making photographs is a very small part of the process now. It is more about what one does with these photographs, what form one gives them, and what is composed of what is in our heads, what we are reading, experiencing, listening...