An Essay of Love

  • Manjula Narayan
  • India
  • Jan 13, 2012

House of Love

Author: Photographs-Dayanita Singh; Prose: Aveek Sen

PUBLISHER: Peabody Museum Press / Radius Book

PRICE: Rs 1926

Genre: Photographic fiction


Photographer Dayanita Singh’s work always draws viewers in, and then slowly releases them – to emerge altered and enriched by the experience. Her latest work, the photo fiction The House of Love, exerts that same pull – and viewers will find themselves rationing their exploration of these pictures; simply because they want to withold the pleasures of discovery. Not that it is possible to extract everything from these pictures, and Aveek Sen’s accompanying essays. 


The House of Love’s 106 colour and black and white pictures are arranged in nine interconnected ‘stories’. Shot largely in India, these pictures, most of which do not have captions, are interactive – in the sense that they invite the viewer to interpret them, and to infuse them with meaning. They lead the viewer to weave tales, to create fiction, and embroider stories about the characters in them. Since each person weaves his own stories, no two people will interpret a single picture in the same way – which is part of the pleasure of Singh’s work. Were, for instance, the people in the burnt red car lynched by a rioting mob? Who is the thoughtful kurta-clad man who appears in many of the pictures? Is that Nano on a specially-made stage part of a dowry? What is the man at the sewing machine thinking about? What are the people on the boat watching so intently?


The House of Love title is a reference to the Taj Mahal; and that ultimate monument of love appears many times in the book in various avatars – in a picture of an installation by artist Sudarshan Shetty, in glass-encased replicas, and as  street-side festival decorations. Aveek Sen’s essays lead the reader along complementary intellectual paths; making him think about life, the world, and his/ her place in it. 


The outcome of a fellowship from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, the House of Love — like all of Dayanita Singh’s work -— is intense and satisfying in unexpected ways.


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