Following that, I seemed to encounter her everywhere; I read about her in Suketu Mehta's seminal non-fiction book on Bombay, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found in which she appears as Hindi film actor, Sanjay Dutt's close friend and photographs one of the book's dramatis personae. One of her monochromatic images graced the Random House India edition of Jhumpa Lahiri's 2008 short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth. As with the image on the cover of Unaccustomed Earth and all the other images that I have seen of her work, the photographs breathed a palpable presence and had so much nuanced texture, peopled or unpeopled. If ordinary photographs captured moments, ostensibly to commemorate them or simply pinion time within the camera's pincer-like lens, her images focused on the spaces between the moments. What happened when we looked away from the lens?
I recently discovered her Dream Villa series in the India issue of the cutting edge British design, art and lifestyke magazine, Wallpaper and these surrealistic, moody, nocturnal photographs were quite different to the work that I was accustomed to seeing by her. This image particularly stayed with me:
The British writer and author of the colonial Raj romance, Far Pavilions, M.M Kaye also authored a three-part biography; in the second part, she mentions an almond tree in bloom that she glimpsed en route to Kashmir. While writing her memoirs, though, she ponders whether the almond tree still exists after so many decades. She nevertheless feels that:
as far as I am concerned it is still there, exactly as it was when I first saw it, its blossoms looking like a milky way of rose-pink stars in the early morning sunlight. Only when I am dead will it cease to be real.
Glimpsing this Dayanita Singh portrait of a tree in bloom reminded me of Kaye's sentiments about the tree, the power of imagination to freeze and preserve an utterly beautiful sight for posterity...and the ability the camera possesses to do so as well. Yet, while most ordinary photographs resist changing interpretations, insistent on remaining as they are, Singh's photographs and the way you perceive them inevitably change over time: much like one yields a fresh, new reading every time you read a much-loved book, as a result of the different person that you are and have become each time you encounter the book.
Images courtesy Dayanita Singh and Wallpaper