Copyright Dayanita Singh 2010 courtesy Steidl
Reading Dayanita Singh’s recent photobook Dream Villa is a wonderful exclamation point on why I enjoy my own night photography; the process can evoke from an otherwise seemingly ordinary landscape a very mysterious narrative. Similar to when the extended durations of photographic exposures can alter the plastic reality of time, the reality of color and space can be altered during night photography.
The light after sunset is a mix of natural and artificial illumination. The source of the artificial light, such as incandescent, neon or quartz can introduce new color elements that are not easily perceived but can be creatively exploited. Natural illumination is usually provided by the moon’s reflection, which can be clear and bright, or cloaked by clouds and haze. The edges of perceivable space at night are defined by this available light.
Night photography is not a new concept, but in Singh’s hands, the altered realities of the night found in unusual colored shapes, surfaces and space is an opportunity for exploration and investigation. In her photographs objects and ghostly individuals loom out of the dense shadows, while these dark shadows conceal information that might otherwise help decipher the mysterious story at hand. Her nighttime photographs shrink the world into a place defined by smaller visual boundaries, which creates a humanized and seemly intimate space.
Serendipity seems to play a large part in Singh’s investigative process, such as finding the words Dream Villa on the doors of an estate that help establish this book’s intent. Likewise, the eerie urban landscape surrounding these doors appears to be in a state of disrepair and disorder, hinting of a darker reality and that life may not be always going as well as intended.
The night is also a period of sleep, rest and rejuvenation, and a period during which dreams can occur, a world of potential fantasies or nightmares. The world of dreams appears to be part of the subconscious experience that Singh is attempting to tap into. Meanings can change and things may not be what they might appear to be, allowing interpretation and analysis and a new dialog to occur. She has created a nocturnal narrative, mysterious, delightful, and playful, and yet still with an undercurrent that is threatening and scary.
All supportive text is lacking, with neither captions nor essays to provide a background context. Singh’s story is entirely composed in her photographic images. The narrative crafted by Singh unfolds in a seemingly random pace, a series of photographs that ask you to assign your own meanings and subsequently create your own story, which makes this as much your story as it is Singh’s. Such that with each new reading of this photobook, I find another new layer of potential meaning. Delightful.
The book is designed so that the individual square photographs of Singh completely fill the two page spread, with the images printed full bleed. The tight binding of this photobook does not permit a lay-flat viewing, thus some content of the photographs which span the two page spread is lost in the central gutter. Normally this double page printing and binding drives me absolutely crazy, as I also wonder if part of the photographer’s intent is lost to the reader when concealed in this central region.
Because of the curious nature of Singh’s narrative, this time the loss of the photographic image in the gutter does not create as much angst. What might be lost in the gutter is as mysterious as the photographs themselves, adding yet again another layer of mystery. The additional manual effort to open this book to peer at this portion of Singh’s photographs seems symbolic of the effort required to interpret her complex visual story.
by Douglas Stockdale