SUCCESS gets in the way

Atleast in being an Artist ,Success and Failure are two completely meaningless words. The sooner one can delete them, the easier things will be, the richer ones exploration will be.They were never part of my vocabulary, even when I was your age. I try to address them now, as I hear some of your concerns.

How can one judge what is Failure and subsequently what is Success. They are both quite superficial and transitory, and todays success is tomorrows failure and vice a versa. They are just trends, they come and go, like fashion.  My whole trajectory has been like this. These words S and F matter if you are running a business and looking for results, but when Enquiry and Exploration are your ‘work’ then how can you measure them in Success or Failure.

I made the ZAKIR HUSSAIN book in 1986, while still a student at NID. It was unsold on the foot path for ten rs. Today it is a ‘rare’ book and unavailable . I never even thought of the world Failure even then. It was not even a question. One does what ones does, because one must, because you have to. Thats all. Today if I can display it on the entrance wall of my exhibition at the Hayward gallery, does that mean it is a success?. It was what informed my entire life, my choice of being a photographer,a soloist,and most importantly to have a mentor in Zakir Hussain. So in that sense, yes it was a tremendous success personally. Immeasurable success.

MYSELF MONA AHMED  2001 also had no ‘box office’ success, and today I am sure some of you are looking for it. It was slotted a photo book, but it could just as well have been in the biography section. Mona writing emails to the publisher as the text for the book was a novel idea (not that I thought that at the time). It was designed to be a photo book that demanded to be read ( on Monas instructions” small enough to read on a plane or train). But it had few takers at the time. Having said all of this, I must admit, this particular book I do see as a huge failure, because the intention was to have people see/ Mona as a very unique person, but  people continued to call her ‘ the eunuch’. I cringe each time some one says that.They still do and invite me to gender conferences.  So this work been a terrible Failure. I did not succeed in my intention ( a whole other subject).  Perhaps these personal measures of success and failure are what matter.

Now we are in 2015 with  MUSEUM OF CHANCE  , which is a immense ‘success’ for me, but seems to be only for me. I finally succeeded in putting the book on the wall, in making the exhibition of the book itself, I managed to convince Steidl to print me a book with 88 different covers so the book could also be the exhibition. I think this was a giant step for the book in this digital time. At a time when we wonder about the future of the Physical book. Did anyone else see it like this, not to the best of my knowledge. Yes when its in an edition , people want to ‘collect’ it, but did anyone review the book? NO. Did anyone notice that it was almost a biography collating images from 30 years? NO. Did the book in itself sell like hot cakes? NO. Steidl said he would never again print such a complicated book.( I am sure he will, he just loves a good challenge) But for me it is perhaps the biggest achievement of my career. So where is success and failure here? I will still tour the book object, at my own cost and initiative, I believe its an important idea. If I wont support it then who will?

Support then leads us to the very important question of earning a living, and so I say to all aspiring photographers and artists, get a job. Cooking, cleaning, designing, writing, anything that can help you earn what you need for the month and then use the rest of the time to explore your “Art”. At one time I had thought I would offer my work to a buyer  for exactly the amount I needed to survive for the month.  We need to take ones work away from the commerce of the Art world, (atleast for the first decade or two of ones practice). And thereby away from the superficial ideas of Success and Failure. They will only fossilize your work at a time when its more important to  protect and nurture your core (another whole conversation)

I guess the biggest problem with ‘Success’ in todays times, is that people just want more and more of that successful thing, and before you can blink, you have become a factory of your own work, a caricature of your own exploration, unable to take any risks of new thought, what was the point of that enquiry then, if it could be cornered by success and its traps. For me it has been important to constantly dodge it, and somehow the work shifts so fast that by the time the praise/criticism/thought comes in for BLUE BOOK, I will be 5 projects down the line, immersed in MUSEUM BHAVAN . And it may never come. That is really irrelevant.

But this is me and my trajectory, you have yours to work out, I can only share some of my experience, my process with you.

Best of Chance

SUCCESS gets in the way

4 thoughts on “SUCCESS gets in the way

  1. Anita Grewal says:

    Hello Dayanita. I borrowed ‘Myself Mona Ahmed’ from our library at the School of Art, Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Australia. Your name was recommended to me by my photography teacher as I was complaining to him that I am not getting any exposure to female Indian photographers. I’m Indian, raised in Delhi but now living in Australia and studying for an undergraduate degree in Photomedia. I was very moved by the story of Mona, and day after tomorrow I am giving a ten minute presentation in my theory class on why I think this body of work is significant. I was just perusing your website when I saw your comments regarding success and failure and I wanted to say that I don’t think this piece of work is a failure. If your intention was for people to see Mona as a unique person then it certainly succeeded in my case. And after my presentation, albeit it to an Australian audience who don’t have the prejudices a lot Indians might have, I think they will see Mona as a person, not a eunuch too. So your work might not have affected thousands, or even hundreds, but it did affect me. And as my husband says to me quite often: “One potato at a time, Anita, one potato at a time”.


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