Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Conversation with Meera Margaret Singh

In 2007, during my residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, I worked as an associate artist, under the mentorship of Thomas Struth. It was during this time that I learned the value of residencies and the influence that they can have on your work over time. I met many wonderful artists, some of whom I continue my dialogue with on a regular basis. Meera Margaret Singh was a fellow associate artist whose portraiture I found engaging. We went out shooting together a couple of times and it was really fun and refreshing to watch her shoot, see how she approaches her subjects and the results. Meera shares her latest body of work, Harbinger with us.

Sonja (by window), 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

Frieda, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

Nymphoto: Tell us a little about yourself.

Meera Margaret Singh: I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I moved to Montreal over 3 years ago to pursue a Master’s degree in Photography at Concordia University. I am currently based in Montreal. I have a not-so-secret love for singing karaoke (Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler is my favourite song to sing… Conga by Gloria Estefan is a close second).

Rose, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

NP: How did you discover photography?

MMS: I finished a degree in Anthropology in 1997 and decided to move to Japan to teach English for a couple of years before pursuing graduate work. Before I left, I enrolled in a photography course at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, a ‘fun’ class to reward myself for graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree. During our first class, I had this overwhelming sensation while the teacher spoke critically about photographs. It was this odd shift in perception for me. I began to see nuances in art that I had previously never seen. I picked up my 35 mm camera the next day and started shooting obsessively. I found the world I saw through my lens became far more exciting and rich than the one I was digging up at archaeological sites. I haven’t stopped since then!

Christine, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

Essentially, my relationship to photography caught me off guard. While living abroad, I photographed incessantly as I traveled throughout South-east Asia, Nepal, India and Europe. I returned to Winnipeg 2.5 years later and enrolled in the BFA program at the University of Manitoba, working under the instruction of my incredible mentor, David McMillan. Once I settled and was no longer traveling, my work shifted from street photography to more constructed, narrative-based work. From the onset, I have always been drawn to portraiture and the ability to utilize photography as a form of social engagement; to better understand, analyze and transform the world around me.

Virginia, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

Christopher, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

MMS: I predominantly work in portraiture, so I would have to say most of my inspiration comes from observing people, particularly in public spaces. My daily subway rides are a sea of inspiration. I am also extremely inspired by film (almost every single Bergman and Kieslowski film, Grey Gardens by the Maysles Brothers, to name a few), the writings of Virginia Woolf, bell hooks, Hélène Cixous, by sad music, Greek mythology, historic painting and Bernini’s unparalleled sculptures. I am also still using film when I photograph, so if I ever need fuel, I spend time in the darkroom and it inevitably inspires.

Sonja (on Leslie Road), 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

NP: How did this project come about?

MMS: My current series, Harbinger, emerged rather organically from a previous series, entitled Nightingale, which is a series in which my mother plays the protagonist. I have worked with my mother for over 10 years (in drawing, painting and photography), but when she turned 70 last year, I felt an urgency to work with her and to address the subtle fear and fascination I feel we both shared in the face of her aging. With Harbinger, my cast of characters is more diverse and varied. Still looking at aging and the body, I am using family, friends and strangers in this series. They all address a similar sense of displacement and suspension in time, space and gesture.

Joan, 2007, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

The series essentially began while doing a residency in Florida in 2007, under the guidance of Thomas Struth. It later evolved when I began volunteering at the Banff Senior’s Centre while doing a residency at the Banff Centre the following year, in May-June of 2008. It was here that I met numerous amazing characters and got to know these individuals before pulling out my camera and photographing. I think the work is more intimate because of this. Previously when I had worked with strangers, the awkwardness sometimes fueled the work. Now I’m being a bit more discriminate about whom I photograph and at what stage in our encounter.

Dorothy, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

The images in Harbinger describe a state of suspension (be it physical or psychological) by focusing on the liminal (individuals in mid-speak, mid-breathe, mid-gesture). I am drawn to the ambiguity and the psychological richness that exists in that space.

Pat and Annette, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

NP: What's next?

MMS: I will continue working on Harbinger and am going to start incorporating video into the work, which is still a relatively new medium for me. I feel I’ve only scratched the surface in terms of this exploration.

Sarah, 2008, from the series Harbinger © Meera Margaret Singh

To view Meera's other work, go to Thanks Meera!


nina corvallo said...

Thank you both for this conversation!

Julie Varughese said...

Love her work. Thanks for introducing her.

Steve said...

Great interview. I had a lot of fun with Meera in that "first photo class" back in '97. Your gift is inspiring Meera!