Dayanita Singh, India’s dame of photography and bookmaking, has been rather active lately on her Facebook Page sharing her advice and opinions for aspiring photographers. We’d imagine she gets a lot of emails and questions seeking words of wisdom. Here’s a selection of her notes.
“Dear Aspiring Photographers. My first advice to you is, please get a job. Yes photography is magical and addictive and a language of its own, thats why we all get hooked. When one cannot find the words, there is always a photograph.But its challenging times ahead for Photography as a career, Photojournalism is , unfortunately, no longer the need of the hour, (As in paying photographers to go out and get the story) I am not even sure what it will mean to say one is a Photographer, some years from now.
But if you had another job (another source of income), then you could really push the limits of what photography can do, use it as raw material, as a tool , challenge it as a medium and its brief history. Most importantly find new forms for it.
In a way Photography is just starting, it is finally democratised, and many new forms/structures will emerge.”
“Dear Aspiring photographers. My second advice to you is to READ.
To read the history of the medium ofcourse ( Geoff Dyer, John Szakowski, Sontag, Barthes…) but also fiction, poetry, non fiction,shayari, biography, what ever your interests are, but do read. Read to gather that immense life experience to bring to your work. The kind of experience decades of travel might bring.Then it might be possible to find a voice of your own. Read also to study form, to understand editing, sequencing, and withholding. All key words for me in my work.
Many of you write to ask me to look at your work, you write to ask if you can intern with me ( I am sorry I do not reply to each one of you, so this is my reply) I would say to you, choose very carefully the people you show your work to because once you decide who your mentors are, you have to listen equally to their criticism as their praise. Many of my most formative conversations have been with writers, thinkers, publishers, very few photographers.
Reading and conversation are my two keys, for those of you who ask me for my advice on how to be a photographer.”
“Dear Aspiring photographers. Along with my second advice to focus on literature, I would also suggest the study of Cinema. To see and ‘study’ as many classics as you can, again as a way of enlarging your life experience, but also a way to understand narrative, lighting ,framing,editing and sequencing.
For the ones who want to do a formal education (esp all of you who ask me where to study photography), I would recommend a BA in Literature or Cinema studies.Then you have something more to bring to your Photography.
Ask me for advice and this is what you get, no easy ways in my book”
“Photography is at its best, when it goes where there are no words, toward that which has no vocabulary. A photograph that cannot be summarised by words. With this intention, it is perhaps closest to Music.
Therefore Dear Aspiring Photographer, (in my ‘humble” opinion) studying music could certainly enhance your photographic sensibility. Its where I understood Restraint and Rigour.”
“The PHOTO BOOK is still my favorite form for the dissemination of the image. But dear aspiring photographers, the photographs you make are just the raw material for this, the book is made on the editing table. Its there that you sequence, weed out, bring in, find the silent pages, maybe add some words, or not. In my work, making images is just 10% of the work. The real work is in the editing, sequencing, finding the right form. That can take years. Gathering the photos is the easiest part. It is then that you might become the AUTHOR of your work and not just the Photographer.”