Born into a well-to-do family in Delhi in 1961, Dayanita Singh experienced a mixture of aversion and curiosity towards photography in her childhood. Her mother is a photographer specializing in portraits and domestic objects, while her father has a large collection of portraits of couples before their marriage. With no initial intention of pursuing this profession, she began training at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, where an academic internship led her to pick up a camera for the first time to photograph the musician Zakir Hussain, the subject of her first monograph. From then on, music and, later, literature would be her main influences. After meeting Hussain, she decided to become a professional photographer and enrolled at the International Center of Photography in New York.
Back in India in 1989 she began taking photographs of the lives of marginalized urban communities and received her first assignment for The Times of London: documenting the life of the eunuchs in her country, a project that would be the beginning of one of her most important series, which years later was compiled into the monograph Myself Mona Ahmed (2001). Between photo-journalism and intimate photography, she then produced I Am As I Am, a series that focuses on the daily lives of girls living in an ashram in Varanasi.
Gradually moving away from photo-journalism, between Delhi and Calcutta, she also traveled to other cities to produce the large corpus of family portraits that would make her internationally known, collected years later in the monograph Privacy (2003). This monographs led to her first exhibitions, such as Family Portraits (1998) at the Nature Morte gallery in Delhi, the space that represented her for the following years.From 1999 onwards she used the villa of Saligao, in the coastal city of Goa, as a second home, which became the new object of her work. Her new interest, which gradually moves away from human figures<0>, opened the door to the Frith Street Gallery in London in 2001 with the exhibition Empty Spaces. In 2003 she presented Privacy, completing the line of work of Family Portraits, at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, her first museum exhibition.
In 2005 she was awarded a residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston with an autobiographical project, the result of which was Chairs, with images of empty interiors in different parts of the world, collected in an artist’s book and exhibited at the Frith Street Gallery and the Isabella Stewart Gardner. In 2007 she presented the series Go Away Closer, consisting of inanimate objects and urban landscapes, which was shown in Varanasi, Delhi, Bombay and the Rencontres d’Arles. Since then, she has been working in a line of work related to departure and absence, which is continued in Sent a Letter, a work that creates a portable micro-museum through several fold-out notebooks where, in the form of an artist’s book, it collects photographs taken by her mother, as well as a vast series of photographs focusing of the places where she has been and abandoned.
In 2008 she received the Prince Haus for Culture and Development Award and the Robert Gardner Award from Harvard University. That same year she switched to color with the series Blue Book, a line she continued the following year with Dream Villa. In 2010, her work was the subject of an extensive retrospective at the Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid, which travelled to Bogotá and Amsterdam. In 2011 she published House of Love, her last color series to date, and two years later she returned to black and white with File Room, dedicated to disappearing physical archives. In 2014, the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt hosted the exhibition Museum of Chance, a reworking of her work in a space installation format.