As a section of Shobha Deepak Singh’s dance photograph collection goes into an exhibition and a book, she reveals she has no love for digital cameras

“I was the in-house photographer for the Kendra,” says Shobha Deepak Singh, Director, Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, referring to her youth when her mother Sumitra Charatram was at the helm of affairs. However, she says, it was only when eminent theatre director and art patron Ebrahim Alkazi held an exhibition of her photographs and she realised knowledgeable people were taking her seriously that she gained confidence in her work. Having shown over the decades in London and in Delhi at venues including Art Heritage and the India Habitat Centre, she now is preparing to not only see some 250 of her photographs of dancers within the covers of a book, “Dancescapes”, brought out by Roli Books, but also see a selection of them put up at the Visual Arts Gallery of the India Habitat Centre. The exhibition is curated by Alka Pande.

The lady who “hates” the digital camera can be spotted at performances with her Nikon F1. “I’ve never used a flash, never used a tripod. I’ve most often not known what’s going to happen (not having seen the performance or rehearsal beforehand),” she says. Having never trained, “not even for an hour,” it’s a “sixth sense” she feels contributes to the success of her photographs. It is also not due to her dance training or experience as a choreographer. “I don’t know what it is in my brain that makes me push the shutter at that moment,” she muses, adding it is certainly not knowing that the ‘sam’ is about to come, because that freezing point is static. “I can comprehend something unusual is going to happen. I think my photographs are by intuition and spontaneity rather than any training.”

Ignorance may be bliss, but so is wackiness. “Sometimes I open the back of the camera (where the film is loaded) and close it and the pictures come out very interesting.” Exposing the film to light in this way (which every amateur is strictly warned against) brings about colours like yellow which are not part of the stage lights and have led to delightful results.

But wackiness is not always bliss. Talking of her well documented negatives classified in imported archival negative folders, properly labelled, each set with its corresponding contact sheet filed with it, she says her oldest negatives must be about 25 years old. But surely as the Kendra’s photographer and her passion for documenting, there must be older specimens. She smiles. “I used to chuck them out of the window. I thought the photo is so nice, who needs the negative!”

Who said learning on the job was easy?