What also may appear archaic to young photographers is your insistence on reading. You advise photographers to take a course in literature rather than photography…
I don’t think there’s anything to go to photo school for. I could teach you how to make a photograph in two days. Where does that leave photography? So I say to young people, what you need to become is the author of your work.
How do you find your voice? Literature shows you something about life. The family portraits I could have taken had I known William Shakespeare when I took them. Who understands jealousy, betrayal, treachery, all these human emotions that are so much part of family life, better than Shakespeare?
A comparative literature course is a great one for anyone interested in photography. You can study how Italo Calvino finds a new form for every work; how Geoff Dyer completely takes the idea of the novel apart and stitches it back together, how he has the courage to write a book [Out of Sheer Rage] about a book that never gets written; how Michael Ondaatje knows just when to stop, to keep you guessing.
When I read [Dyer’s] Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, I was on a grant from Harvard to photograph ‘social issues’. It was a lot of money and very prestigious and it was a trap. I took the photographs I thought Harvard wanted during the day, and photos for myself at night. I was obsessed with this hallucinogenic colour of Calcutta at night. I learned from Dyer how you can weave together two different books and complicate both.
Photography: courtesy Arts Collaboratory
Read the full interview: Dayanita Singh
Also read: Raghu Rai on photography