Photographer or Photoscanner

If you wonder why your photos look like everybody else, get yourself a light meter and learn how to measure light as YOU see it. It will also slow you down and force you to make a more considered image.

Its really about how you measure the light and where you decide to focus. Photography and life. Are you a Photographer or a high quality Photo scanner?

You can also be happy, I suppose, being a photo copy machine that replicates whatever is put on it. Not good enough for me though.

If you listen to the room, it slowly starts to reveal itself to you. In my experience though, it takes upto 24 hours. Longer for a person, they are more cautious.

PS- will keep adding twitter posts to this one……

Photographer or Photoscanner

Frame and focus – Photography and life.

Its really about how you frame and what you decide to focus on. How you balance the light. Where you keep the highlights. How much darkness you allow into a situation. How sharp you make the shadows.How you allow the room to fill with light, more importantly what kind of light. Are you drawn to the harsh noon light or the very gentle full moon light. Most importantly your vantage point. The slightest shift in perspective alters the frame.
In Photography and in life too.
Who you allow in and what you leave out. That sort of makes the picture of your life and the photograph. what is revealed and what is withheld.

He is an architect but to me he is a great artist, he made frames around life. Frames that had to be experienced in situ, that were impossible to fix in photos.The reflections of the pillars on black floors in the afternoon light could reduce one to some very old tears. In bricks and mortar too  it seemed to be about what he revealed and what he concealed. And the more you lingered the more the building revealed itself. The more time you gave, the more silence you made room for, the more the space opened up. And actually portraits too.
People take time to reveal themselves when they are being photographed.Often dependant on where and how you entered. People can sort of smell what your intentions are and they respond to those. And your intentions come from what you carry in your head. No getting away from the books you read, the conversations you follow, the experiences you bring to yourself, the people you engage with, the people you disengage.

How you frame and what you focus on and what your vantage point is then the key, for photography, and perhaps life too. So photography just a metaphor for life. Perhaps that is what photography is for me.

Frame and focus – Photography and life.



These are the tools of my trade, I have been using the same camera, same 80mm lens and same minolta light meter for almost 20 years. TRIX 400 is the film I have used  since I started photography in 1980. I know these tools like the back of my hand. To this photo I forgot to add the tripod. Though this keeps changing as they make lighter and lighter ones.

Each one of these help me slow down, they force me to pause between photos and before starting. They prepare me for making the image, like removing ones shoes before entering a room.

There is the ritual of loading the film, first the sound and pleasure of tearing open the roll, then fitting it in place, listening to the sound while forwarding to be sure it has not stuck in the sprocket, and then fitting the back onto the camera.Then taking the camera and aligning it onto the tripod, after having done the dance around what I was hoping to photograph, those stretches that force you to ever so slightly alter the frame.The light meter one could say I need not use after all these years. But I like the ritual of going upto what I am photographing, measuring the exact light reflecting of the skin of the subject, then calculating how I might like to use that information. Even though I can , after all these years, guess the exposure.Then I bend into my camera, and fix the focus Between the camera being jammed into my belly and the gravity of strap on my neck, bending over, I make a tripod out of my own body. I like photographing from the navel level over the conventional eye level, I like that I see an inverted image, and then the magic sound of the shutter, An image has been made.

I can make another 11 images, as the roll has 12 frames on it. In my bag I might have 3-4 more rolls for the day of an extensive shoot. I sort of ration myself, because there is only so much film that I can carry on a trip. I might take a second frame of the same situation, just to be safe for focus and or exposure. but rarely more than that.

Its possible that i might have 3 shoots on one roll of film of 12.

Then there is the wait for the film to be processed, and the contact sheets to come from the lab. I never look at them too closely at first, just a glance to check that everything is fine, and the customary look at the negs. A few days later I sit with them and my loop, I always get depressed that I could not ‘capture’ what I thought I had. It takes many months for me to separate the experience/emotion of making the image and what the image retained. Often a very large gap and it could be many years later that I ‘realise’ the image. So many of my images have 2 dates, the date of taking and the date of realising.

This realising of the image, often happens like a deja vu, of seeing the girl on the bed, recognising that I had been in that emotion before, returning to contact sheets of more than ten years and finding the go away closer images. Or yesterday, photographing the Kandalama hotel and suddenly wanting to rush back to sift through my contact sheets because I had made that same overgrown with nature building, somewhere outside Calcutta, and then again perhaps in Patna, but somewhere else too.

The contact sheet, the paper that has 12 images in it, make it impossible for me to think of images in isolation.I read images left to right, diagonally, and each viewing changes the meaning of that image. Infact the contact sheet was one of the inspirations for the form of Museum Bhavan. I value my library of contact sheets even more than the negatives archive.

As for digital photography, I LOVE it for instagram and to whatsapp photo secrets to friends.

I try to imagine a language of images, that illiterate people even could access and use, I think of developing such an app. I like that the wide angle on the phone camera allows me to get very close, and do macro photography.I am waiting for the phone camera to get even better and then will be the challenge to develop another form for digital, perhaps. After all on digital cameras, its just a button between still and movie!



HELLO fellow SOLOISTS- I was wondering how to start the conversation on being a soloist, a term I started to use when ‘single’ seemed like you had not quite coupled, and I wanted a word that was not connected to coupling and familying anyway. A name for people who preferred to be on their own. Who chose to remain so. Gradually I started to say I was a soloist and the importance of being a soloist in my work, slipping the word into every interview I could (until i discovered the world of the blog) but this is what I just found….and possibly everyone else knew it all the time….. Soloist was decided/demanded long time ago

When Zeus asked Artemis what presents she wanted for her third birthday she responded without hesitation that she wanted six things:

~ to be allowed to live without having to be distracted by love and marriage,
~ a bow and arrow just like her brother’s,
~ a hunting costume and freedom from having to dress up like a lady,
~ the job of bringing light into the world,
~sixty young nymphs to be her companions and to help care for her hunting dogs, and
~all the mountains on the earth to live on.


Artemis seemed to be more comfortable with the companionship of women friends.  Often depicted by artists while hunting or bathing with her band of nymphs, the goddess Artemis valued her freedom and personal space and protected them with ferociousness.

Indeed, those who restricted her freedom, those who tried to thwart her commitment to reaching her goals, or simply invaded her privacy, paid dearly.


In her abject grief, the goddess Artemis turned her dead lover into stars and shot him into the night sky where he remains as the constellation Orion. Never again did she allow herself to become vulnerable to romantic love.


Photography for Writers

Why does a writer aspire to make a book of photographs like a traditional photographer did, like me for eg. Why does the writer look to the ‘approach’ to photography as a traditional photographer did, which more often than not often was  ‘project’ based, for a variety of reasons. Why not trust that Woolfian Writerly stream of consciousness, in both the writing and the editing. And just as in writing, the ‘work’ is made in the editing. Photography in itself is just not enough.

Why does the writer not find a form that uses his words and images, expanding both, rather than one illustrating the other. Now that everyone can make photographs, and do, we might want to stop looking for ‘forms’ within Photography. That would be limiting at a time when Photography is expanding by the day.

Also as we seem to return to becoming a more image based society, it might be to the writers advantage to see Photography as another tool to be considered.

I would say the same to Cinema and Still photography. After all its just another button on the camera. I am sure there are several forms waiting to be discovered in that switch of a button. I for one, am very drawn to the moving still image, but others with more knowledge of cinema will find other forms.

The ‘skill’ in photography is how you see, not what you see. Yes it takes years to build that voice but as a writer if you could bring your own perspective (as you do in your writing) to your photography…the images will sing. And then the long solitary time for editing.

Infact what we need in Photography are the great editors, we never had too many but both Robert Delpire and Walter Keller were among them. Today, if I had to suggest someone, I would say work with a film editor. But a literary editor with a refined visual sensibility could also work. As long as you get past the notion of established forms for Analogue Photography. As soon as you think of Photography as your language and not a borrowed one.

Photography is a tool , accessible to everyone. The Book, the exhibition, the projection were forms of traditional Photography. Now that Photography is just the raw material, we will have thousands of new forms emerging.

I am no writer, and no writer could come close to Sebald, but Austerlitz is my dream book. My favorite Photo book infact.

Photography for Writers

Foot Path faculty for Art colleges in India

Dear Striking and other Art college students.

The strikes at our colleges are terrible and one hopes will be resolved asap, but this could also be a great opportunity to develop a , much needed, parallel form of Arts education.

During the strike at the Delhi College of Art a wonderful idea presented itself in conversation with Inder Salim.- The Foot path Faculty. For years we have been hearing about how appalling the syllabus of the Art colleges in india is, how it has not been updated.and now we have a possibility of a solution.

Last week I conducted a 2 hr class on Tilak marg,as did many of my colleagues, on the street, for about 40 eager students, outside the College of Art. I think we were all quite excited by it, and even started a reading club for some of the students,spoke about what Photography is now, and what it means to be an Artist, a rambling engaging conversation, I think.

This week I had an hour long session at FTII and only stopped because I had to go to the airport. The students were open and curious and really engaged. We spoke about how the future of Photography might just be in the moving still image, among many other ‘ideas’ I am most certainly going back next month and I hope we can explore how to move the still.

I am really quite surprised that I have never been asked to speak at any Art college except when Dr Jain set up the dept of Arts and Aesthetics at JNU. The school that I studied photography in depended entirely on visiting faculty and practitioners who taught us. That was a very big part of the learning, the conversation with editors and photographers from the field. Even while at NID , where we did have many visiting faculty, I always tried to engage with them, regardless of their or my speciality. Even today I am entirely a product of my conversations. Clearly the Art colleges are not looking to engage with practitioners, or something like that.

I will defenitely conduct some kind of a conversation programme for Art students, while my Museum Bhavan occupies KNMA Delhi for 4 months. Probably sunday or saturday classes so it does not interfere with your regular college hours. I am hoping to engage many of my colleagues in these informal sessions.

And if there are other Art colleges that would like to engage in conversations around Photography Now and being an Artist, I am happy to come and meet you on the Footpath.

Best wishes dear Artists, my first advice is to get a job.

Dayanita singh

Foot Path faculty for Art colleges in India

Editing Sequencing and FORM

Dear Photographers, making ‘good’ photographs is just not enough, there are thousands made each day,  I think as ‘ working photographers’ one has to learn to edit ones own work and the sequencing and then finding the suitable form for that suite of images. Often the form presents itself, in that process of editing and sequencing. But its a long tedious process. And its a solitary work. The more people you ask for advice, at this crucial juncture, the more mediocre your work will become.
A designer cannot do this for you, and when they do its ‘their ‘ work , not yours. You collect beautiful words, from years of work, you take them to an editor or designer, they make a poem out of it, whose work is it then?.
Just like at what stage to go to the gallery, it might be important to consider, at what stage you go to the designer.They will help you articulate your vision, but you must not expect them to create that vision for you. Its yours to make.
I think this idea of handing your images to someone else, comes from years of photo journalism , where the photo editor would choose the images, the sequence and the size. So this handover is ok/the norm in photo journalism, but not in making books and other forms that are waiting to be found, by you.

I learned my editing from great writers, but I think I would learn even more if I worked with a great film editor. There are many ways to address editing and they are not necessarily from within the realm of photography.

I am trying to work towards the Mass produced Artists book,not a Photo book, nor an Artists (unique) book.  Where the book is not a reproduction of the images in an exhibition or a series, but the book is the exhibition itself. The book is the form.

I am sure there are hundreds of forms waiting to be discovered, if only you take the editing sequencing, ‘forming’ in your own hands/

Editing Sequencing and FORM

The economy of FILM and its contact sheets

I still use film, I like how it slows me down, how it forces me to focus before I make an image. Digital has other properties ofcourse, we all know those but 120 film and hasselblad and tripod are the tools that work best for my slow release imagery.

12 frames at a time, each ‘click’ almost 100 Rs a shot !! think about it when you next go click click click, there is something to the economy of film. If not the cost then the fact that after 12 frames you need to reload the camera. You start to have the count in your head. I often get my strongest images at no 11.

Which brings me to the contact sheet. The 12 images on one page, I think thats where my stream of consciousness sequencing started. Where different worlds meet on the same contact sheet. Even if I make digital images, I turn them into contact sheets of 12.

I think the mobile museums are an expansion of the contact sheet idea. That I did not have to show single images because thats how others saw photography. Who decides that Photography should be shown as a single image and not in grids of 12. Or in ten grids of 12. or 100 grids of 36.Or contact sheets of contact sheets. They are a fascinating form of diary and display, these contact sheets

But most of all the waiting for the contact sheet to return from the lab, the disappointment with what you saw not translating into film, filing them away and then returning, sometimes years later and saying OMG, how come I never noticed this before. Go Away Closer is made entirely of images that I thought of as sideys, as images made by the way, on another shoot. Imagine if I had deleted them!

The economy of Film, the contact sheet, the archiving of them, so I have every frame I ever made. The connections over time are unbelievable, that dejavu you get when you photograph a girl on her bed, that brings the words Go Away Closer to your mind and you rush back to Delhi to find images that have the same tenor…..

Perhaps I should start making a performance of how FILM works, the opening of the roll that sounds like toffee, the licking of the film after the roll is over, the reaching into your pockets hoping you still have another roll…..and most of all the accidents that you could never have on digital, that using color film after sunset to photograph from a factory tower, that started the Blue Book work.

The economy of FILM and its contact sheets

A space between Publishing and the Art gallery?

I dream of a space between publishing and the Art gallery, a space that takes the best of both worlds and makes a third space from them. That takes on distribution and dissemination ( not always the same thing) of the publishing world and the making of ‘Art” aspect from the gallery world.

I wonder what the name for such a space could be, which young person might get excited by the idea and take it forward. The person would have to create the conversation for such a space, collectors for these objects, and most importantly work out the distribution systems. I am not at all suggesting a Museum Art shop, though it could even start by making affordable limited editions of Artists works like the Serpentine  for an eg, but not restricted to those. I for one would like to propose posters of my work with photography and text, I am sure other artists have ideas too, we just need to create the space.

In my own small way ,I allude to this space when I make my book objects, especially with Museum Of Chance, a mass produced Artists book, which is then made into an ‘object’ for the wall, and sold in an edition. It still can function as the book, you slip it out of its structure, and you can enjoy it on the wall as you might a print of mine. I then individualise each book object by a combination of stamps, so actually each person has a unique object. Here what I also like is that the collector could curate their own sequence out of the book covers. I am most satisfied when someone buys them as their first work of Art. It is an agenda for me to make the book object on par with my other works, atleast in how they are viewed.

MOC book object

But this is what I came up with, I am sure once Artists start looking at this ‘in between space’ between their ‘book’and their ‘art work’ many ideas will form. We just need the publisher/gallerist/?  to make this space. Ofcourse it could also be an online space or a pop up space.

A space between Publishing and the Art gallery?

Please wait to join the gallery dear aspiring artist

Dear Aspiring Artist

You finish Art college and you dream of being picked up by a gallery, and then you think you will become an Artist. If only it were so simple, the gallerists would also be artists along with hundred other people. If there is any other profession you can do, do it. Being an Artist is tough and never gets easier. Dont be fooled by market surveys and page 3 photos.

Somehow in India, we equate being a ‘succesfull’ artist with having a gallery, simply because there is no other space in which to show ones work. How many Artists can galleries take, how many galleries can there be? and are galleries the only space to show ones work? How then will we think of forms outside the gallery space….

My advice to you, get a job and pursue your Art in your spare time.Making Art is a long and solitary journey, that space of exploration needs to be nurtured, tended to, before it finds its own direction. I would say wait ten years or some significant amount of time, before you join a gallery, be the author of your work before you even look for the right gallery, dont go to a gallery while you are still unsure.You could get terribly stuck in your enquiry if you join too early. There needs to be a considerable amount of time between Art college and joining the gallery, the time of exploration.

A gallery is there to present your work to a larger world, it works very hard in creating a conversation for that work, and finally in selling/positioning the work. The flip side of this is that you could have to keep making that work, with maybe some deviations, but nothing too major . The risk is too much for the gallery after it has invested all that time and energy in your work and therefore if you depend on gallery sales, on you too. Get a job, bake the best bread, design weddings, drive, teach, anything to have a minimum amount of survival money. I once thought I would calculate how much money I needed for my bare survival for the month and sell my work for that amount.

A gallery is a commercial space, it needs to survive to keep showing your work and to do that it needs to sell work. And in India galleries, to their great credit, have served many roles, because we have barely any museums or not for profit Art spaces. How much can we expect of the gallery.

Where in India is the space to experiment, to show works in progress.We have to make them.

Which is why the Kochi bienale becomes the  most important Art space in the country. Where one hopes there is the possibility of showing ‘experimental’ work, work that is not determined by its market, work that is exploratory. It helps that an Artist is the curator. I wonder if the bienale might become an educational space as well, of ongoing conversations with the showing Artists.Might that be a way to offer some parallel education in the Arts.

Yes we have a Khoj but we need a 100 khojs in a country this size. Perhaps we have to find our own alternate spaces for showing our work. I now make mobile museums, so that I can send them to other libraries, museums, institutions. I would even take them to a hospital o a university. If I keep waiting for them to invite me, it may never happen.I send them proposals, most times there is no reply, but once it happens and you find a new space, it is magic.

In 2008 I made my first book exhibition SENT A LETTER and put it in the Satram Das Jewellers vitrines on Park street in Calcutta. 7 years later, it is still showing there on Park street. Using the medium of Photography, one is aware that one of the most significant aspects of the medium, is the dissemination of Photography. Which is where the book becomes more the form than the print of the wall, for me. I now even have the Book on the walls with Museum of Chance. But there are hundreds of ways of disseminating photography, the gallery wall is only one of them.

We had a boom in the Indian economy around 2008, and at the same time, a boom in the Art scene and prices went through the roof. Suddenly everyone wanted to see ‘Indian art’. then came the recession and with it the dip in the art world.That time was a serious exception.It was an economic situation, not necessarily an “art movement”.

It was never easy living as an Artist, and it may not always be. Its a high risk profession. Great artist had jobs and made work- Bhupen Khakhar, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, there must be so many others. Its only recently that we think of being an Artist as the sole way of earning a living. I think there is something quite major to reconsider here. Why do you want to be an Artist?

I write this to you because I get a sense of the hope and aspiration you come to the Art world, but there is a lot else you need to do other than find the right gallery.

The right gallery is also a challenge, I think some of us are very lucky to have found the right fit. If the gallery is too commerical, thats a problem, if they are not commercial, thats also a problem, I suppose its to do with what you are coming to Art making for. If its to explore and experiment and be in a state of constant enquiry, then you have to work very hard to find a suitable gallery.This too is not easy but if you do find the gallery that is willing to engage in an ongoing conversation, its a dream. Meanwhile I really hope we will build some not for profit Art spaces, till then we need to keep finding alternate venues.

The India Art fair is one such occasion. You could do something at that time, in some other part of the city, word of mouth will get people there. The off site fairs always get everyones attention. If the Kochi bienale seems to much a dream, nothing stops you from doing something in the city at that time, on your own. Clark House initiative did this at the first bienale.

Wish you all the luck, you need it, as well as all the books and travels you can get yourselves. It never gets easy, and as I have been saying, the day one gets comfortable/complacent is the day to stop making Art.

Dayanita Singh


Please wait to join the gallery dear aspiring artist