When filmmaker and artist Reshma Pritam Singh first started photographing herself, she hadn’t yet heard of the term ‘selfie’. She began taking these pictures to come to terms with turning 40, grappling with feeling that she hadn’t achieved anything noteworthy so far, and having omitted to ask her younger self that universal question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Over the last three years, she has compulsively created hundreds of images of herself, mostly on her phone and deliberately with minimal paraphernalia. In the pauses between the passionate picture-taking, she began to feel that the photos were serving almost as a rite of passage, as she ceased to be herself and became a subject willing to pose for her own camera. In these eclectic images, you see Singh assume different personas, slip into various roles, and answer a different question: Who do you want to be today?
Bibi Resham Kaur takes a picture.
Unlike most Sardarnis, I wasn’t given the customary Kaur to embellish my name. I also lacked the grace and elegance with which women like my grandmother, Bi’ji, covered their heads with lace-trimmed cream chiffon dupattas. So here I’m wearing some regular jeans and a top, but the act of wearing the dupatta, with my hair neatly tied in a bun, transforms Reshma Pritam Singh into Bibi Resham Kaur. I wanted to capture the act of me taking a picture on my laptop – playing at being ‘Bibi ji’. This is one of the few pictures where I’ve got a friend to release the trigger. (It’s lit by a regular study lamp, which you can see in the frame. Also one of the rare times I used a DSLR. Nikon D 7000.)
The Medusa was beautiful.
The clouds have lifted and I have the sun in my eyes. The light would come in streaks through the door and I would follow the travelling strips, capturing it falling on different objects, till one day I lay down and was painted by striped light. (iPhone. Natural light.)
This is the one that set it all rolling. In a room with vomit-green walls, under a tube light, unable to process pain… Put a cushion cover on your head to look like flowers, choose the right filter to mask your ordinariness and create something wistful. (MacBook Pro. Fluorescent tube light.)
“And Daphne, becoming a laurel/ dares you to become the wind.” – Rilke. To begin with, this was a straightforward portrait from the earliest days, very stark and in-your-face. I couldn’t bear to look at it and wanted to experiment with layers, so this lent itself well. It was over-the-top pretty. A friend helped to execute it in Photoshop; the only instance where I’ve created an artificial layer. The woman in the picture could be Daphne growing into a tree. (D 7000. Study lamp.)
“You hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability…It is the sound of your death.” The desire of the round woman to look sleek and powerful. To keep a straight face.The glasses, the hair and the multiple reflections make me feel like Agent Smith or the Twins from the Matrix Trilogy. With due apologies to fans across spectrums. (Nikon D 7000. Fluorescent tube light.)
The idea was not to just look like her, but to borrow some of the finery and invoke her pain to heal a somewhat battered heart. (Nikon D 7000. Study lamp.)
Most things about this picture would be wrong – the uneven lighting, the awkward cropping, but who cares? I feel like a cyborg with different colored eyes. (iPhone. Natural light.)
I’m a noir Matryoshka doll.
Double reflection in my bathroom mirror. Among the things I realized on my selfie journey was that there was a very strong, but latent, desire to thumb my nose at established notions in the over-culture. Of what constitutes beauty on the one hand and, on the other hand what equipment and gear give legitimacy to. (Or simply: “I’ll show you buggers how to take a picture using my own mug, lit by a tube light, on my laptop!”) Let’s just say that I had been paying through my nose for excess baggage. Taking these pictures has reduced it to a well-stuffed rucksack. (iPhone. Natural light.)
Miss Balbir looks back.
Having a phone camera allows you to very quickly change character and create a scenario on the spur of the moment. This was taken on holiday with no premeditation.Afterwards, I named her Miss Balbir. I imagined she taught the Romantics to literature students in a girls’ college in Chandigarh; never married, but carrying the treasure of a star-crossed romance in her heart. (iPhone. Daylight.)
Here, I just wanted a dated, old-fashioned feel. One of the challenges of shooting with a phone camera is that your shot size becomes limited to the length of your arm, but the easiest thing to do is to support yourself on your stomach. Also, the only way to adjust exposure is to keep wobbling the phone so the camera catches the light and shadow areas till you strike the balance you need. (iPhone. Natural light.)
Will I turn the corner?
Capturing the magical golden hour in the old apartment. Despite the urge to resist most of the principles taught in school, how can you resist the light when it is so beautiful? (iPhone. Natural light.)
“Woman who walks in the sky.” In Tibetan mythology, Khandrolmas are celestial beings born in pure realms. The beautiful clouds on this hand-painted dupatta given by a friend remind me of traditional Tibetan paintings. It gives me the feeling of floating away even though the frame is so confined. (iPhone. Daylight.)
The world is your oyster.
Typifies my life choices of the past several years. I now make films for the corporate sector for a living – something that I have been uncomfortable acknowledging and have fought hard not to be ashamed of. This was taken while waiting to interview the CEO of a multi-nat. I often shoot myself in these situations. It is comforting and reminds me that my ‘real’ work is in another direction. Telling myself: Look over there darling, here comes the sun. (iPhone. Fluorescent room lights.)
Lips that would kiss.
“At the hour when we are/ Trembling with tenderness/ Lips that would kiss/ Form prayers to broken stone.” – TS Eliot. Water cleanses, bringing the debris of unexamined feelings to the surface. I would often take pictures after a bath, enjoying the solitude. Once it had been experienced, I’d capture the mood. Revel in its sensuousness. (iPhone. Natural light.)
Cloud gazing, my hair floats towards the watery sun.
Despite coming across as gregarious, I often feel awkward in company and don’t have much to say after the first exuberant exchange of pleasantries. I begin breathing easier when I start taking pictures. It was easier to shoot myself because I didn’t have to worry about consent. But I did worry about vanity when I was teased about shooting myself to look glamorous. This is an anti-vanity shot. I like the way both the reflection and the water fade away at the edge of frame. (iPhone. Daylight.)
Reshma Pritam Singh is the founder and creative head of boutique production house Mogstar Media. She has written for UNICEF’s fiction series “Kyunki Jeena Issi ka Naam Hai” and worked for television channels such as TV18 and BITV.
First published on Yahoo! Originals.