OSP: The Many Ways to Interpret Photography

I read about art and other things often. The reading is usually what inspires my artwork and it is a major influence in this blog. Reading pushes my thinking and processes in new directions. I enjoy thinking about what I read, in my mind there is always a dialog. I thought I would share that dialog with you here.


Quotes by Famous South Asian Photographers

While making the presentations for the photography workshops Meropi and I do, I collected quotes by the photographers we show. The quotes show a variety of perspectives and whenever we do a workshop I think about the way I would discuss my relationship with photography and how it has influenced my life. I thought for this post I would share some of the quotes with you and talk about how they translated to me. Perhaps I will even write something quotable.

Gauri Gill Quote

“I mistrust quick work. I like to let the photos sit. You may think one day that you have done a genius thing. But over a period of time, sometimes the feeling passes and only sometimes does it hold.”

– Gauri Gill

Munem Wasif Quote

“Reading literature, study the history of art and travel. That’s how you will learn photography. Don’t post your work to Facebook and wait for likes. Listen to your heart.”

– Munem Wasif

Shahidul Alam Quote

“I am a very political man and the reason I took up photography was because of my political position. Being concerned about the social situation in my country and globally, I happened to stumble into photography and discovered what a powerful tool it was; which happens to be the only reason why I practice it. I enjoy images but at the end of the day that for me is not the point of the exercise. I continue to use photography in whatever way I can. Largely because I seethe strength of the medium and I recognize the potential. Having said that I think – I have said this before – that if tomorrow it ceases to be effective, I’ll have no qualms about giving it up and taking something new.”

– Shahidul Alam

Dayanita Singh Quote

“Making images is maybe 10 percent of my work. And the rest of it is really weaving, editing, editing, editing, then the sequencing. After the sequencing, comes the pacing and thinking about the form – on what kind of object do I want to create out of this work, what do I want the object to do. Is it just a book of photos? Of course not. Because I’m now beginning to think this is my work. Making the book is my work. And the photographs are just a way to make the book.”

– Dayanita Singh

From these quotes, it is obvious that each of these artists have a different engagement and working method with photography. Each of these quotes gives us an idea about the photographers working style and why the do what they do. I purposefully picked quotes that dealt with different aspects of the craft. For instance, Gauri Gill talks about living with the work, letting it breath. She is not interested in pushing work out quickly just to have the world see photographs she made. This is an important less in the 21st century. With the ease of digital technology it is easy for photographers to work quick and move on to the next thing. It is easy to say, ‘I got it!’ Gill’s words are important to consider.

Munem Wasif is a man after my own heart. I agree that photography is a craft to be learned, even thought anyone can take a photograph perhaps even a one with nice composition, that does not mean the photograph will have meaning behind it. I also love to read, study art history and travel. The point he is making is that you cannot make art in a vacuum. You have to get out in the real world and you have to be informed. The history of art and traveling have both greatly impacted my art making and I would not change it for the world.

The most powerful of all of these photographers is Shahidul Alam. I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak. He is captivating and caring. It was obvious to me that he cares about the craft of photography as well as the people around him. I love the honesty in his quote. He says he specifically gets a political voice through the act of making photographs and it is the voice that make photography important to him. Everyone can have a voice through photography but it has to be focused and practiced. I think most people would be shy to say they needed what photography did for them instead of saying they love photography. I think we should all take some time to understand why photography is important to each of us. For me, photography is an educational adventure. I crave knowledge in the form of photographs, books and travel. If my curiosity was not fulfilled I would have no interest in photography.

Last but not least, is Dayanita Singh. Through her quote we discover she sees photography in a conceptual way. She sees the photographs as a means to an end. She wants to make books and the photographs allow her to do so. I think she and her work is very interesting because she is interested in another form of presentation. The book is at the front of her mind, not flat images to hang on a wall or view on a screen. Today, it seems like more artists are working in a more installation or sculptural way with photography that hearkens back to 1970’s conceptualism. Singh could be useful inspiration to young artists today.

Each of these artists practices photography for different reasons and works with the medium in different ways. The most important thing that can be learned from the quotes is that the art of photography continues to grow, change and multiply. I have a deep respect for each of these artists and their work. They each inspire me to continue my photographic adventures.

I would love to know why you make photographs. Share your thoughts with me in the comment section below.

Works Cited

Gauri Gill quote:

Khurana, Chanpreet. (2016, Jan 30). The Art of Slowing Down. Live Mint. Retrieved from http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/6LwF3r0otzmDa4Lu8uQIjI/The-art-of-slowing-down.html

Munem Wasif quote:

Hoque, Abeer (interviewer) & Wasif, Munem (interviewee). (2014). Munem Wasif: Learning How to Look [interview transcript]. Retrieved from Asian American Writers’ Workshop website: http://aaww.org/munem-wasif-interview/

Shahidul Alam quote:

Katyal, Manik. (2013, July 15). Establisher Earthquake. Emaho Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.emahomagazine.com/2013/07/establishment-earthquaker-shahidul-alam/

Dayanita Singh quote:

N.A. (2013, Jan 14). Making Images is maybe 10 Percent of My Work, Dayanita Singh. Invisible Photographer Asia. Retrieved from http://invisiblephotographer.asia/2013/01/14/makingimages10percent-dayanitasingh/

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By |2018-10-12T16:26:52-05:00March 10th, 2017|On the Subject of Photography|2 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.


  1. Brad Burkons March 10, 2017 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Gill’s quote (& your added comments on speed in the digital age) reminds me of a Margerate Burke-White remark. I can’t quote it exactly, but it told how she kept all her negatives, even ones she thought terrible.A “lousy” shot may have different effect many years later. Tastes change over 30 years.

    • Betsy March 12, 2017 at 12:08 am - Reply

      Hey Brad!

      Bourke-White has an interesting perspective. But they are both right what moves you today may not move you tomorrow. That is why artists have to live with their work. Projects need to breathe, they need time and attention. 🙂 Like a child. 🙂

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