Dayanita Singh comes back to the Rencontres d’Arles this year and chooses to confuse issues a little more. She has opted to combine the latest, enigmatic element of her personal work, Go Away Closer, with images of an unknown photographer she has only recently “discovered”: her mother! Over the last few decisive years of her photographic career, Dayanita Singh has been slowly freeing herself from the abounding clichés associated with her country, enticing her public into the labyrinths of her colourless world. Her art is savagely opposed to any notion of Indian Identity; she leaves it up to us to seek out the paths that pave her Family Saga (decidedly Indian!), overloaded with “love, memories and loss”. Dayanita allows us to find our own egress and benefit from our straying.When she suggests to her 75-year-old mother that she exhibit alongside her for the first time in Arles, Dayanita knows that, together, they will be setting their sights very high. This is because her mother, Nony, is an accomplished amateur photographer; she has photographed Dayanita, her sisters and her husband Mahinder. Dayanita has brought back to life family negatives, cheap prints and albums – one of which is totally astounding and made up of photos of her Husband’s girlfriends and compiled by Nony herself. These are shattering in their intensity and forcefulness. Dayanita is aware of this because these very images have inspired some of the enigmas that nourish her own work. United in photography for the first time, these two ladies take us on a very weird and wonderful journey indeed.
GO AWAY CLOSER
Dayanita Singh chronicles lost moments of intense vision. She collects images from nowhere, similar to a déjà vu from a great distance, suddenly meeting us in the here and now. They illuminate the idea of somewhere or other almost magically, precisely because place and time are eliminated. Singh has developed her own photographic language, creating narrative horizons that remain open to any viewer or reader. The photographer has disappeared completely as a source of information, and the idea of the photograph as an all-embracing image of a complete, valid story that has only to be understood and followed through has been set aside.
Singh’s photographs are looking for viewers who will edit them, imaginatively, charging the images that can be gleaned from them with possible stories from their own experiences, informing them with their cultural and psychological cast of mind. The artist’s photographs offer certain linguistic elements, syllables and embryonic words. No image is formed until viewers interpret and read these elements, emphasizing them in their own way. Hence Dayanita Singh’s photographs remain untitled and undated; readers of her photographs are intended and entitled to lose themselves in a ’Somewhereland’ of the imagination. Go Away Closer – the title of the series touches on this ambivalence and the sense of being present and yet carried away that the images are tempting us to enjoy.
Dayanita Singh’s photographic work stands on a narrow shelf in the kitchen of her flat in New Delhi – in the form of black-and-white contact prints in postcard-sized, hand-bound black books. An opportunity to flick through these, to allow yourself to be carried from image to image, from place to place, outside time and space, is among the most intensely felt moments that photography can afford. Singh calls these her ’journals’, bringing the series dating from the last two decades together here: her analysis of young women’s lives in an ashram in Benares (I Am As I Am) or young female sex workers in the big cities (Kamathipura Series), then her friendship with the eunuch Ahmed (Myself Mona Ahmed), lived out to the point of self-extinction, then, in a kind of counter-move to her own biographical roots, formal portraits of well-to-do Indian family clans (Privacy).
Unpeopled interiors appear even in the Privacy series, and Singh continued this fascination for the open poetry of empty rooms in the Chairs, beds and images of images series, and also in the images in the Go Away Closer series – theatre interiors in Bombay and elsewhere, the surface of the water outside the Devigarh Fort Palace, the gleaming black floor of the Padmanabhapuram palace in south India, a factory in Puna, a wedding, all the images real, all the images unreal. “Go Away Closer – to me that ambiguous relationship one has with love and loss and memory but those words are so over used that at best one can allude to them. Wanting, not wanting, not being able to let go. And then your reading which may have nothing to do with my saga.” (Dayanita Singh)