In 2018, when Architectural Digest commissioned Dayanita Singh to photograph B.V. Doshi—who had been awarded the Pritzker Prize that year—at Kamala House, his home in Ahmedabad, their meeting set off a chain reaction that has now yielded several outstanding works of art. The latest iteration in Singh’s ongoing dialogue with Doshi, also vividly captured in her previous work BV Box, is Portrait Of A House, a book that belies the simple claim of its subtitle: Conversations With BV Doshi.
Singh’s latest offering abjures her usual formalist adventures and looks very much like a book—yet it is also so much more. As you open it and turn the early pages, alluding to the blueprint grid paper on which architects typically sketch the schema of their creations, you are released into a space of pure reflection and creativity. The voices of the master-artists complement each other, like the sawal-jawab between classical musicians, as Singh said in a recent interview, opening our eyes and minds to new ways of seeing and thinking.
For a book made with (seemingly) still photographs, Portrait Of A House is remarkably alive. That’s partly because the dialogues between Singh and Doshi, recorded at his home in 2018 and on Zoom in 2020, are free of the fusty formalism of public performance. Like a flow-chart, sparks and flashes connect the free-flowing ruminations of their agile minds, building bridges between their practices. The other reason behind the shimmer of life on the pages is Singh’s gift of making photographs “speak”—a quality that Doshi had asked her about when they first met.
Singh’s photographs of Doshi and his family—wife, daughters, grandchildren, the peahen that struts around Kamala House—are reminiscent of her earlier works of portraiture, especially Privacy and Ladies Of Calcutta. But Portrait Of A House is singular because of the vantage points offered by Doshi and Singh as they go over the photographs one by one. With each frame, there’s a feeling of sitting in on a masterclass on architecture and photography, especially as the two of them frequently return to the alchemy of light—a common concern for both makers of buildings and images. Once you have looked at these photographs, guided by Doshi’s and Singh’s masterly eyes, even the most mundane nooks and crannies of homes beloved to you, parts of them you never paid any heed to, will return to claim their share of attention.
“When I design a building, I conceive stories, I conceive narratives,” Doshi tells Singh, as she teases out the reality of this statement in each frame. All the people who enter Kamala House, Tejal House and Maneesha House—designed by Doshi and named after his wife and daughters, respectively—seem to succumb to the magic of memories created by these spaces. Arms and legs akimbo, bodies held in warm embrace, sitting or lying, alone or together, there is an overwhelming sense of peace and surrender in their bodies. As Singh puts it, “Kamala House is really like a house of love,” an allusion perhaps to her earlier work, House Of Love. Her readers must thank her for letting them step inside this abode of affection.
Portrait Of A House, Conversations With BV Doshi by Dayanita Singh is published by Spontaneous Books and priced at ₹1,800. It is available for purchase only at Gallery White (Vadodara), Sangath (Ahmedabad), Offset Projects (Delhi) and on their official websites.
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