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Feeling blue

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Blue Book, Dayanita Singh’s new body of work, is actually a double entendre. It’s both a series of photographs, hung on the walls of Nature Morte in India, and a slick book of postcards, produced by Steidl publishers in Germany. The thing is, Dayanita intended it to be that way. It is her intervention in the art market. The book ensures you can own the images, if not as the expensive prints, then as high quality postcards. Photography is a medium that allows for this latitude, and Dayanita stretches it out to the fullest.

There is an unlikely parallel to the industrial landscapes she has photographed for the series. Here, in giant factories, hundreds of products are manufactured and pushed out into the world. The images of their birthplace — the deeply engineered, giant structures — also go out into world, perhaps to fewer people, as postcards. This mass dissemination at two levels is an essential idea to the Blue Book.

Despite this, industrial landscape is not Dayanita’s prime concern. She didn’t go out after a new form, a new metaphor for a new global world or sentimentalise industrial forms a la Berndt and Hilla Becher. Nor, despite the spectacular works on show, did she seek out the dazzling industrial landscape, as Edward Burtynsky has done. Rather, it is their alien-ness to everything she had photographed earlier that drew her to them. Being in an industrial landscape propelled her out of a familiar context, it freed her to experiment. That’s how the blue came in.

Dayanita has always worked in black and white, and never saw any reason to step out of it. Her move out, now, several years later, is introspective. Working during late twilight, using daylight colour film, created a shadowy blue she used as the cast over her entire work. The idea of colour subsumes the work itself and predominates the work as part of the project to stretch out the blue and its possibilities. Rather than a body of work created for exhibition, the is about the process of learning to speak in colour. There are linkages with previous bodies of work.

The vocabulary moves ahead from her previous work, Go Away Closer, a series where, unexpectedly, fewer people predominated the frames than in her earlier work of upper middle class portraits or the collaboration between herself and her “subject” Mona Ahmed. Now, in Blue Book, there are no people in the literal sense of the word. You cannot hear the buzz and chatter. But their phantom-like presence is discernible, invested in the giant, production processes. This silence is not absence, therefore, but part of the intense control, thoughts and timbre that Dayanita brings to the frame.

A lot of each of her works are created outside the frame. She edits, removes, re-thinks her work unsparingly, drawing in the influence of recent conversations, music and experiences. Often, these amalgamate to inform what she shoots as well. Although serendipity frequently plays a role in guiding her to new work, nothing on the walls is by chance. What we are finally shown is the frothy end of the churning.

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