Bandeep Singh: Blank Verse Soliloquies

Bandeep Singh is the Photo Editor of ‘Fortune India’. A recipient of the Charles Wallace Trust Award in photography, he was formerly the photo editor of ‘India Today’.

Bandeep Singh
is the Photo Editor
of Fortune India.
A recipient of the
Charles Wallace Trust
Award in photography,
he was formerly
the photo editor of
India Today.

Bandeep Singh ponders over contemporary photography trends, with a visual experiment he did last year at the Delhi Photo Festival.

The Delhi Photo Festival, whose latest edition concluded last year, churned a vortex of ideas. Engaging displays,put up with a lot of imagination, sucked in attention and loaded it with information. The saturated brains were then pureed in the lectures, artist talks, and discussions. Three days later, I was brimming with ideas, insights, new road maps and questions. This is about the questions. Photo festivals articulate current trends and new dialects in photography.

Since DPF 2013, I am increasingly seeing a new approach in terms of photographers presenting bodies of work. More often now, there is the emergence of seemingly imperfect random and unrelated images, bunched into a body of work. Now increasingly frequent on popular photography sites like LensCulture, Petapixel and a lot of individual photoblogs, such work appears to be in contrast to the structured narratives of social documentary and journalistic work. At their best, these are images seeking to be free of the yoke of ‘correct’ framing, studied composition and clichéd reportage. They play out more like strokes in an abstract painting or strains of free flowing aalaap in classical vocal music. There, they emerge as graphs of mood and inner states rather than a depiction of what is tangible. Then, there is a counterpoint.

For a generation of photographers, photography’s core association with the depiction of ‘what is’ largely governs the patterns of its consumption. Its expansion into an art form allows for imaginative transformations of reality. Even in those departures ,the consideration of ‘what is real’ or ‘how far from real’ still forms the locus of the image play. For practitioners who have fashioned their craft with the real and tactile—on the anvil of specific structures like the decisive moment, the studied frame, the dramatic empathy of photojournalism or the language of popular visual culture, these unhinged, seemingly banal images often appear evasive of rigour and craft.

When questioned with what David Campany (in the keynote address of DPF) termed as ‘suspicion’, such work intermittently emerges as self indulgent and conveniently ambivalent. These ‘nonlinear narratives’ are garbed in the spirit of free expression. They emerge as ‘new voices’ in not wanting to make linear sense. But the sense has to be created to provide purpose—to make them intelligible. For that, the gaps in the narrative structure are injected with copious amount of text— reminiscent of the jargon that underscores a lot of contemporary art. The photograph that hitherto had the power of a thousand words now needs a thousand words to be intelligible.

I see this as a new emergent language in photography—a transition perhaps—a fissure of expression opening up as a result of the explosion of images in our mindspace. It is something like when lyrical poetry and its metres were replaced by structures of blank verse. That blank verse, then, making more poets than poetry. I did a personal experiment to stage this expression. The guiding inspiration came from the DPF 2015 logo. The interconnection of the lines between lenses served as the base equation. While attending the photo festival and walking through the space, I made some images around the exhibits, on my cellphone. I then picked portions of text from different artist statements to connect with my images. I wanted to see if the images would, in this way, appropriate more layered subtexts. On these wings, the distance the images fly from their actual context is the new territory of photography.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Bette Photography.


Tags: Bandeep Singh, Visual Musings, Delhi Photo Festival, January 2016