DAYANITA SINGH’S LATEST BOOK of photographs begins with a set of five striking images. Resembling the initial scenes in a movie before the opening credits start rolling, the first few pages of House of Love, before the table of contents, are devoted to photos of brightly lit anonymous cities shining like jewels set against the night sky. Following the very first image, a photo of a sculpture, the four city shots, with their glowing streets and buildings bathed in electric light, are like testaments to man’s ability to create sophisticated spaces for living.
The book consists of 10 such sets of photos, almost all without captions, but this opening series is different from the ones that follow in a couple of ways. For one, all five photos have a similar look and feel to them and, as a result, their impact is more forceful. Moreover, unlike the other sets, they have not been grouped under a heading, so we have no textual reference whatsoever to influence us when we view them. There is a unity to these images that helps us appreciate and savour them with ease. But in the photos that follow, Singh has decided to make things more challenging.
Singh is one of India’s preeminent photographers and her preeminence can be discerned by the fact that she is now counted among the country’s top contemporary artists. She moved away from photojournalism long ago, and began photographing things she was interested in—girls who lived secluded lives in an ashram along the Ganga, the life of her eunuch friend recorded over many years, and portraits of upper middle-class Indian families inside their very nice houses.