Dayanita Singh panel discussion at Southbank Centre

“You are a woman, experience motherhood, what is there for you to do in Photography?”

Little did this photographer know the woman stood in front of him was Dayanita Singh, who 26 years later would become the first Indian photographer to have a solo show at London’s Hayward Gallery.

“Go Away Closer” is Dayanita’s first major UK retrospective and runs until December 15th at the Hayward. Yesterday Shades of Noir were lucky enough to be invited to Photo-fiction, a panel discussion on Dayanita’s artistic practice which challenges the boundaries of the photographic medium.

The discussion was chaired by broadcaster Christopher Cook and included speakers Stephanie Rosenthal, Chief-Curator of Hayward Gallery, Liz Jobey, Associate Editor of the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, James Lingwood, Co-Director of Artangel and Walter Keller, co-founder of Parkett magazine and Fotomuseum Winterthur and founder of Scalo Publishing.

Determined to pursue photography Dayanita persuaded her mother to let her trade in her dowry in order to study Photojournalism at the International Center of Photography in New York. She worked as a photojournalist for many years documenting aids in India before turning her eye to portraiture.

By breaking away from the traditional print-on-the-wall boundary of the medium Dayanita has distinguished herself from the mainstream scene through a series mass-produced books and portable museums. The books have no first or last page and the museums are architectural wooden structures which be constructed in various ways so that the narrative is constantly evolving.

During the discussion, Stephanie and Liz described the curatorial process of working with Dayanita,  the “kitchen conversations” in the lead up to the exhibition and her almost cutting room floor process of “editing, un-editing and dis-editing” which meant there was never an end but always a new beginning.

James explored Dayanita’s photographic narrative, a conscious stream of absence and presence, waking and sleeping, with an everlasting desire not to be tied down.

And finally Walter, a close friend of Dayanita’s, gave intimate snippets from their Skype conversations over the years. He lovingly described her work as a collection of Matryoshka dolls and said once you had taken all the dolls apart you would find Dayanita hiding in the very last one.

Dayanita’s retrospective is a master class in story telling and not to be missed.
Tickets for the exhibition can be purchased via

Shades of Noir would like to give special thanks to Simin Eldem and her team at the Southbank Centre.