Dayanita Singh

Books, Boxes, and Museums - Exhibits Reconstructed

"It means more than anyone can imagine. It is a validation of the shift I have been trying to make in photography."

On the 15th of October, Dayanita Singh was presented with the 2022 Hasselblad Award by the Hasselblad Foundation. Often referred to as "the Nobel Prize" in photography, the Hasselblad Award celebrates one artist's pioneering achievements in the photographic arts and their impact on the next generation of photographers. The Hasselblad Foundation highlights Singh's unique archival work, that not only documents the lives of archives but brings about a new way to interact and experience the art of photography.

© Dayanita Singh

Singh has a way of pulling out an object's history. In her The Time Measures series, she captures a stack of documents wrapped in red cloth. This is a traditional way of preserving documents in India, where the red colour is used to ward off insects and rodents. As multiple wrapped documents are stacked and time goes on, the red colour begins to fade, leaving unique patterns and imprints reflecting the individual history of the bundled documents.

"I zoom in on a subject, whether it be a person, glass, shoe, or building, and really give my 100 percent attention to listening to what I am trying to photograph. There has to be a great connection. I can't take casual pictures."

© Dayanita Singh

Each image tells a story, but the way Singh sequences and displays the images transforms a group of photos into an interconnected archive. From books to hanging photo boxes, Singh showcases both individual images and a collection of images as a holistic art piece, sometimes incorporating images into new collections and forms that she often changes or rearranges. 

“I think of photography as raw material, as a starting point, where dissemination and form are the keys. Sometimes a book, a book object, a book cart, a museum even. Photography is so vast - it has so many possibilities."

© Dayanita Singh

Dayanita's series Museum Bhavan takes on many forms. It is a collection of nine accordion book museums that unfurls to display the images. This allows for the museums to be taken and displayed anywhere.

© Dayanita Singh

Museum Bhavan also takes on another form, mobile museums in the form of modular wooden structures. The wooden mobile installations feature panels that zig-zag open or unfold in different ways. Some structures have tables that unfold from them or shelves in the middle, containing boxes with more images. The museum structure can display anywhere from 70-140 photographs which Singh rearranges and curates for each show. Through this modular museum, Dayanita curates a unique interactive archive custom-fitting the space. 


Singh has produced over a dozen books. Her books almost exclude text completely save for a title; she allows the images to speak for themselves, opening up to evolving interpretations.


Although feeling archival in nature, Dayanita is not constrained by a timeline. Museum Bhavan features new and old images spanning back to when she first started photography in 1981. And because she often rearranges her work, the viewer is both seeing a snapshot captured in time and experiencing a new form and context of the image altogether. 

© Dayanita Singh
© Dayanita Singh

Dayanita has worked with the 501C and an 80mm lens for years. She began working in film and later transitioned to digital. "No other camera comes close to what that Hasselblad meant to me. I often bring out my 501C just to feel its strength in my hands. We are a perfect fit." In partnership with the Hasselblad Foundation, the Hasselblad company gifted Singh the newly launched X2D 100C camera with a brand-new XCD 55V lens and a 907X 50C camera, including a CFV II 50C digital back compatible with her analogue camera.

"I've always wanted to teach a workshop called 'Dancing with my Hasselblad.' I mostly photographed with my 501C digging into my belly, and my entire torso functioned like a tripod. I used to call my Hasselblad my third breast. It became part of my body."

Dayanita Singh
© Hasselblad

About Dayanita Singh

New Delhi-born photographer and bookmaker Dayanita Singh has been a Hasselblad user since 1997. She credits her artistic style to the influence of many supportive mentors throughout her career. Singh studied at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and furthered her studies at the International Center of Photography in New York. Her work has been displayed at major institutions such as the Hayward Gallery in London, the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi. Singh has also published over a dozen photobooks. 

About the Hasselblad Award and the Hasselblad Foundation

The Hasselblad Award has been granted annually to photographers since 1980. The prestigious Hasselblad Award is mentioned in Erna, and Victor Hasselblad's last will and testament as dedicated to "a photographer recognized for major achievements."

Each year, the Hasselblad Foundation's board of directors appoints an award committee of internationally prominent experts and scholars in photography. The committee nominates 3–5 candidates, from which the Hasselblad Foundation's board of directors selects a winner. The recipient is awarded SEK 2,000,000, a gold medal, and a diploma. In partnership with the Hasselblad Foundation, the Hasselblad company gifted Singh two digital cameras, the newly released X2D 100C, and a 907X 50C, along with an XCD 55V lens.

Discover our interview with Hasselblad Award Winner Dayanita Singh here.