Welcome to Photo Focus, where each Friday I will examine a single photograph. These short essay’s will give a greater insight into the individual image beyond its context within a group of photographs.
Dayanita Singh, Continuous Cities 15, 2010
Dayanita Singh’s photograph Continuous Cities 15 from 2010 is part of a collection of work from the book House of Love. The book contains nine photographic projects, including Continuous Cities.
The photograph seen here depicts a detail of Taj Mahal, a sculptural installation by Sudarshan Shetty. The sculpture is a monumental cube created from small replicas of the Taj Mahal. One can enter the sculpture and there is a video of overlaid images of the Taj Mahal and flames. Shetty’s intent was to reduce the Taj Mahal to pure pattern, to destroy the structures importance. The flames in the video help reinforce this idea. However, I think Singh’s photograph re-instates the importance we place on the monument. The feeling of darkness and emptiness of the museum is palpable in the photograph, giving the feeling of trespassing. That feeling gives the impression of intimacy. Which leads back to the Taj Mahal and Singh’s work in general.
Like all of Singh’s work this photograph is moody and emotional. The darkness spreads from the central illumination in the photograph. The warm light that fills the frame gives a visual and physical contrast to the one fully illuminated Taj Mahal replica, which appears metallic blue.
I was attracted to this photograph on first sight. The Taj Mahal holds a unique spot in the history of Indian art and architecture, as it is one of the most famous buildings in the world. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal in 1632 and it was completed in 1648. Built as the mosoleum to his favorite wife Mumtaj Mahal, it has also become his final resting place in 1666.
Personally, I have a fetish with the Taj Mahal. I have collection of around fifty photographs and postcards of the monument. Even though I have visited India three times I have yet to make the journey to Agra and see the famous structure. Perhaps I will make it in 2016.
This photograph, Continuous Cities 15, holds the key to entire book House of Love, because it is known as a monument to love. Furthermore, The Taj Mahal is represented in several other projects in the book. However, the multiplicity contained within this photograph holds the beauty associated with the Taj Mahal, one of an eternal love to which we all aspire in our own ways. Furthermore, as the essay in the book by Aveek Sen reminds us, the Taj Mahal just like a photograph is a simulacrum. The photograph and the monument are only stand in’s for our personal desire.
Aveek Sen, “A Nocturnal Vacation,” in House of Love, Dayanita Singh (Santa Fe, NM: Radius Books, 2010): 158.