What links the works of Nony and Dayanita Singh

01 February 2014

ON THE COVER of Nony Singh: The Archivist is a photograph that appears within the first few pages of Dayanita Singh: Go Away Closer, the book that accompanied Dayanita Singh’s first major retrospective in London’s Hayward Gallery. The photograph shows Dayanita as an infant and the photographer is Nony Singh. Contained between these two reproductions are the stories that Nony and Dayanita Singh imagined and created.

Nony Singh, born Ranjit Kaur in 1936, is Dayanita’s mother. Like her daughter, she takes photographs of the world around her and, so far, some of her strongest work has been in black and white. Both have an aptitude for photographing people and spaces. Guarded and unguarded expressions play an elegant game of hide-and-seek in their images. A patina of nostalgia, enriched by the monochrome palette, gleams from their photographs.

Dayanita is a celebrated photographer who, over the past 25 years, has established herself as a talented photojournalist, a brilliant artist and a gifted bookmaker. In contrast, Nony Singh’s photographs are from family albums. Her photographs don’t always have the precise frames and sharp compositions that Dayanita’s do. They’re carefully annotated with dates and captions, while Dayanita frequently dismisses such conventions. And yet, despite these differences, there’s a vein that runs through the works of both these women, and it’s deeper than the simple fact of bloodline and shared surname.

Deepanjana Pal is Mumbai-based writer and journalist. She is the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma

Keywords: photography archive Dayanita Singh exhibitions memory cultural history