POCKET MUSEUM; my book story


Museum Bhavan, my pocket museum, published by Steidl 2017.


Sent a Letter installed at the FotoMuseum Winterthur

With Sent a Letter (2007) the idea of the book as exhibition, in its own right, became clear to me.The Book object trajectory had started in my work. Until then when it came to Museums exhibitions and collections, it was impossible to have the book there as my work and not as an accompanying catalogue. They said “Dayanita a book is a book and an exhibition is an exhibition” but for me it was not so. I wanted to insert a Go Away Closer book inside each frame of the silver print that people collected. I felt in acquiring a single image they were plucking one note out of my symphony. I had to get the book on par with my prints.

It has been 10 years of following this obsession, against every advice, but I could not stop it. Invite me and you could be sure I would smuggle the book cart in ( as I did at the Venice Bienale 2013), if you said NO CARTS please, I would build a bookcase and carry it in myself, if you said no shipping, I built a Suitcase museum that I could check in on the flight, each problem presented an new solution, another Book object. I even have bookcarts in my house, for guests who may not have the chance to acquire my books.

I had explored the accordian fold format when I had made the CHAIRS book at the Gardner Museum, but there the focus had been more on the system of distribution that was the emphasis. 50 distributor friends were fedexed 10 copies of the CHAIRS accordian fold book. It was upto them how they chose to distribute the book. Someone handed it to the first ten people he saw on one particular day, another friend kept them locked till someone had sufficiently appreciated the display copy, and when I carried with me one of my 10 books for Sol Lewitt, he laughed and said keep it Dayanita, I have three already.

But with Sent a Letter, which had 7 letters I had made for friends that I travelled with, and it came housed in a special handmade box, Steidl published 2000 of these.A regular edition. So 2000 homes had 7 miniature exhibitions of my work. It is now out of print and I took the last copies and made a museum out of them. These vitrines of Sent a Letter have been displayed in many Museums and galleries as well as the buyers homes.

I installed Sent a Letter in the vitrines of Satram Das Jeweller in 2008, right on Park street, next to Flurys, they are still there, in Jan 2017. On the busiest street in Calcutta, a daily exhibition , running for almost a decade.

Sent a Letter installed at Satram Das Jeweller Kolkata since 2008

Then came the FILEROOM book. At the last moment I asked Steidl if we could make the inside images the same size as the cover images, as this would allow me to cut images from the book and paste them onto the cover image, there by having as many covers as there were images in the book. This then allowed me to have an exhibition set. I also built a mobile Museum for these 77 different covers FILEROOM book museum. This was shown at the National Museum in Delhi. Finally I started to work on a structure for an individual book to be displayed on the wall, alongside ones miniature paintings or water colors. This led to the FILEROOM book object and for me a dream come true. The idea that my book could hang alongside my silver prints. I loved both forms, silver and steidl offset.

FILEROOM book and book cart installed at the MMK Frankfurt

For Museum of Chance book I actually asked Steidl if each of the inside images could also be cover images. He was very annoyed at my bizarre request, but then as always, thought about it overnight, and said ok, lets do it. Museum of Chance was an edit made from 30 years of my work, held together by the idea of Chance. So it seemed appropriate that the cover you bought was also by chance. Meaning you had no choice in which cover you got if you bought online and from the bookshop just the choice of the covers they had. No one except me and the MMK had the full sets as that was the tedious part.

This also allowed me to have exhibitions in unlikely places for eg the foyer of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. Something I could never do with ‘original’ prints or Mobile museums.


I then took the sets that I had, and made an edition of 352 Museum of Chance book object from them. Each set of 44 books had the 88 images inside it, on the front and back cover. I again built a wooden structure for the book, and at special secret events I would individualise each book that was bought from the set of 44. This was the only time you could select exactly the cover you wanted. I liked that people had to engage personally in buying the book, in deciding the cover and if they decided to buy two or three, then it took hours to make the right combination, as the back cover added another layer to the edit.

Later this also became the Museum of Chance book case , that I could hand carry on flights and finally the SUITCASE MUSEUM which I could take as check in baggage.


Then Steidl and I,decided to publish a Pocket Museum. We took images from all the 9 Museums that make MUSEUM BHAVAN ( a travelling family of Museums) and made 9 accordian fold books. Since we had already published FILEROOM, we took images of the Godrej cupboards from the FILEMUSEUM and made a GODREJ MUSEUM. Similarly, having made Museum of Chance, we made a completely new edit and this became ONGOING MUSEUM. We also added a book of conversations. I still wanted to see if it was possible to make a mass produced book/museum and yet have each one be unique. We achieved this impossible task by making in India 3000 unique boxes for the MUSEUM BHAVAN book. So now the Museum Bhavan book that you will buy will be a totally unique box, that will house 9 of my Museums. You buy the book object as the Pocket Museum.


Coming soon……….to a bookshop near you, this one does not need any special editions or exhibitions. It is itself the Museum , and the unique/mass produced book. I had the oppurtunity to show it inside the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul.



Most of all it is an invitation to the ‘collector’ to become the curator of my work, in their home, office or hotel room. A friend even had an opening for it infront of the Taj Mahal.

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POCKET MUSEUM; my book story


Museum of Chance  book object 20141106_145606 2BookObjectHawaMahal invitation

On 20th January 2016 I will open  the exhibition BOOK OBJECT Museum of Chance at  Hawa Mahal Jaipur. The exhibition will be open daily from 9 am until 5 pm. It will stay on until 20th March.

I am very happy to present this at a time when the book world congregates at the Jaipur Literary festival . I am curious to see what the response of Book people will be to the Book on the wall, while my prints are now in mobile museums, away from the wall. If in Delhi do see MUSEUM BHAVAN at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

I think I have finally succeeded in finding the form that is both book and exhibition at the same time. This was something I first explored with Sent a Letter, continued with FILEROOM where I cut up the book of 77 images and made 77 different covers, to finally convincing Steidl to make me a book for each image inside was also a cover. Then the challenge was to literally Frame the Book, to build a structure where the book was a book but also an exhibition. Where the book became a catalogue of its own exhibition. we achieved this with MUSEUM OF CHANCE Museum of Chance  book object 20141106_111357





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!