Through the cracks of a mirror

It was a moment that had been etched in her mind. In a workshop with Eugene Richards, one of the greatest photojournalists of our time, Dayanita had been asked, as had all the other workshop participants, to “photograph each other naked”. She was not comfortable with this, and questioned the value of such an exercise. “Trust me,” Eugene had said, “I want you to realise how vulnerable one can be facing a camera.” It was to be a turning point. Eugene might not have known, but it was this ‘vulnerability’ that Dayanita Singh chose to explore as her medium.

It would not occur to a grandmother to leave her children in an orphanage after the death of her sons and daughters-in-laws. Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures
It would not occur to a grandmother to leave her children in an orphanage after the death of her sons and daughters-in-laws. ? Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

It was as a curator of the show “Positive Lives” an exhibition on people’s responses to HIV/AIDS that I was first introduced to Dayanita’s work. As I looked through the archives at the respected Network Agency, I saw competent photo essays on sex workers in India. The work did not excite me. India, was known for its exoticism, its misery, its otherness. An Indian photographer, documenting the same stories that western photojournalists had established as the face of this great nation, was a disappointment. I could hardly dispute the images. She was a fine photographer, and while the prints I was shown lacked the quality one might have desired, the photographer was clearly one skilled in her art. That for me, was not the issue. I was later to discover that it was not the issue for this remarkable photographer either.
In Manipur the grandmother is affectionately called BOBOK. With the breadwinner of the family dead she will go out and beg on the street if necessary, but she will never throw out her grandchildren. If they are positive, she will care for them as long as they live.
In Manipur the grandmother is affectionately called BOBOK. With the breadwinner of the family dead she will go out and beg on the street if necessary, but she will never throw out her grandchildren. If they are positive, she will care for them as long as they live. ? Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

The images Dayanita produced for Positive Lives were breathtaking. The exquisite composition and her sense of moment were the tactile elements that made her images stunning, but more persuasive was the humanity in her photographs. The tender relationships, the joy, the shared pain, the sense of belonging that she was able to nurture and portray. It was then that the trouble started, a trouble that I am glad I came across. We had meticulously gone through the issues of representing people with HIV/AIDS. They risks people faced due to stigma. The physical dangers the display of the images might lead to. Dayanita’s concern for the people she had photographed meant she had to protect them all the way. It was frustrating for me as a curator. To find pictures which were sublime in their construction, to be left behind, because the photographer felt there was too great a risk of repercussion. Too great a threat, of perhaps things going wrong. We put together a great show, but I knew, photographically it could have been much greater. I also knew we had done the right thing. Dayanita remembered too well, how vulnerable one could be facing a camera.
Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures
? Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

I look back to the stroll through her flat in Delhi, the photographs taken by her mother, juxtaposed with her own. She had been questioning her own work for some time. Questioning her ‘success’ at producing images that regurgitated the “India” the west already knew. She chose to become a mirror to herself, and in that process begin a journey that would create a window to an everyday world. An everydayness that other photographers had shunned. Dayanita and her camera merged into one. She became the fly on the wall, the confidant, the muse. the critic. Before sub-continental literature had made its indelible mark, Dayanita was writing visual novels about middle class India. The glitzy, private, solemn, contradictory, celebratory world of the India today.
Dayanita
? Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

Dayanita
? Dayanita Singh/NB Pictures

She harnessed photography’s unique ability to record detail, its penchant for capturing the fleeting. Its ability to make time stand still. She made the ordinary, special, and the special, ordinary. She also made an important shift within the profession. Recognising that the medium had shifted from the Life Magazine visual spectacles, aware that the spaces for visual journalism had shifted, Dayanita, took on the spaces that other photographers had feared to tread. Her venture into museums and galleries, her indisputable presence as an artist, has challenged the traditionalists in the field of art, who had been unable to grasp the magic of this new medium. Her presence while imposing is also path breaking. A new generation of photographers will wake up to this wider canvas. Some will take it upon themselves to explore this new space. And the ripples will spread. Dayanita meanwhile will continue to nurture the vulnerable. Through the cracks of her mirror she will take us to the other side.
—————————————————-
Indian photographer Dayanita Singh was one of the Prince Claus Fund laureates for 2008. Indian writer Indira Goswami (1942, Guwahati, Assam) was presented this year?s Principal Prince Claus Award of ?100,000 on Wednesday, 3 December 2008, in the Muziekgebouw aan ?t IJ in Amsterdam. Other laureates were, Li Xianting (b. 1949, Jilin Province, China), Venerable Purevbat (b. 1960s, Tov Aimag, Mongolia) , Ousmane Sow (b. 1935, Dakar, Senegal), Elia Suleiman (b. 1960, Nazareth, Palestine) ,James Iroha Uchechukwu (b. 1972, Enugu, Nigeria), Tania Bruguera (b.1968, Havana, Cuba), Ma Ke (b.1971, Changchun, China), Jeanguy Saintus (b. 1964, Port au Prince, Haiti) and Carlos Henr?quez Consalvi (El Salvador, b. 1947 Venezuela). Drik Picture Library has a special relationship with the Prince Claus Fund

Lucifer in Mumbai

Babui / Arjun

2008 November 29th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York
Mumbai, city of such wealth,
And of such poverty!
Today, the jet-set here have felt
A new anxiety.
And yet, when we have sorted through
The bodies bathed in red,
How many workers will we view
Among the ones now dead?
******
Be it from bombers in the sky,
Or gunmen treading earth,
It is the poorer ones, who die
The most, yet leave no dearth.
And even when he seeks out those
In Oberoi and Taj, *
The gunman, with his bullets, mows
The lowly of the Raj.
The ones, who went from Mumbai slum
To earn their few rupees,
Lie murdered. Who will forward come
To help their families?
Now death unites the ones, who were
By birth and wealth divided.
For just a day, has Lucifer
All privileges voided.
And she, who partied at the clubs,
And swam in bluest pool,
Now lies, and rusting shoulder rubs
With maid, as fires cool.
******
The firemen came, at last, to quench
Those fires that long had raged.
And now, we smell the awful stench
Of corpses that have aged.
Whence came those ones, so zealot eyed,
With guns that spewed out death?
They did not know, the ones who died,
In Mumbai’s horror met.
* The Oberoi and Taj are names of famous hotels in Bombay.
The Taj is in a historic building by the sea-front. The Oberoi is
in a modern one, and is part of a chain, with branches in major
Indian cities as well as elsewhere.
========================================
Unusual interview, on CNN, with the materialistic “guru” and physician, Deepak Chopra, regarding the recent horror in Mumbai (Bombay).
Video CNN – Deepak Chopra on Mumbai Attacks
Video CNN – Farid Zakaria on Mumbai Attacks
Tariq Ali in Counter Punch on Mumbai Attacks
Bangladesh Open Source Intelligence Monitors
Stills and videos from Mumbai

Paradise Found

Madanjeet Singh UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Founder, South Asia Foundation passed away on Sunday the 6th January.

In 1995, the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence was initiated to honour his lifelong devotion to communal harmony and peace. The creation of the prize coincided with the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi.

Madanjeet Singh Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Madanjeet Singh ?Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Continue reading “Paradise Found”

Battuta Was Here

Tughlaqabad Fort is a ruined fort in Delhi, stretching across 6.5 km, built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty, of the Delhi Sultanate of India in 1321, which was later abandoned in 1327. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Tughlaqabad Fort is a ruined fort in Delhi, stretching across 6.5 km, built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty, of the Delhi Sultanate of India in 1321, which was later abandoned in 1327. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Shams al-Din Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Yusuf al-Lawati al-Tanji Ibn Battuta was more commonly known as Ibne Battuta. Born into a family of Islamic judges in the Moroccan town of Tangier, he developed a thirst for travel after going to Makkah on pilgrimage in 1325 at the age of 21. He travelled extensively, going to Anatolia, East Africa, Central Asia, China, up the Volga, down the Niger, even in the tiny Indian Ocean sultanate of the Maldives. He kept meticulous records of what he saw, what he heard and the people he met. 29 years later, he went back home and wrote about his experiences with the help of Ibn Juzay, a young scholar. He was little known when he died in 1368 as his rihlah was not respected as a scholarly piece of work. Continue reading “Battuta Was Here”