by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

Ishita Singh Talks Photography, Self-Love & Fave Rose Water Mist

Having grown up in a family that celebrates art, it is little wonder that Ishita Singh experimented with different forms of creative expression before eventually falling in love with photography. The New Delhi native graduated from the London College of Communication with an MA in Photography and has been a part of several exhibitions in the last 2 years—‘Threefold’ in London and Hangzhou, ‘Women on Women’ at the POCKO Gallery London.

Known for her performative self-portraits, Ishita’s practice investigates the construction of identities and rigid dimensions, primarily of femininity, through photography. She has also been shooting commercially since 2012, working with notable clients like H&M and Fratelli on projects ranging from fashion editorials to advertisements.

When she’s not photographing humans, it’s likely that you’ll find her out in the mountains and forests, photographing her favourite subjects—wildlife and Mother Nature.

We caught up with Ishita to talk about her photography, cultivating self-love and the beauty tips from her culture that she can impart.

How did your relationship with photography begin? Did you try other forms of creative expression before finding your niche?

I was very lucky to grow up in a family that celebrates art and was exposed to it at a very young age. I started my creative expression through painting in school, then moved on to music—guitar-playing and a bit of singing. At one point I was quite sure that I wanted to do music professionally, but that quickly changed once I was gifted a camera by my grandfather.

All my initial technical knowledge for that craft, I owe to him. I was given an expressive outlet, a medium that I was able to control better than anything else and I completely fell in love with it.

What does your creative process look like?

For commercial projects, my approach looks at a combination of a soft vision and story combined with control over light. I do tend to pre-plan the day of the shoot, but always leave space for a natural flow on set.

Oddly, I feel like I photograph animals or nature like I photograph my models; with similar intentions but without the interaction, of course. I try to treat my subject—mountain, human or animal—as a being with a personality, much like being aware of a crevasse on a mountain or a wrinkle on a lion. Bringing a sense of softness in the intention or aesthetic is usually what I try and attempt in my work, regardless of the genre.

How do you choose the themes and subjects in your work?

In my commercial work, it is mostly a combination of the client’s vision and emotion, and my aesthetic, which is always evolving with every project.

But for my practice, my primary theme has always revolved around constructed identities, the idea of the self and the portrayal of women in the media-loving modern world.

What messages do you hope your audience will understand when looking at your work?

My body of work, on one hand, has commercial images of seemingly “flawless” models in the advertising industry and, on the other hand, a commentary on how one needs to differentiate between this fantasized “ideal” (of beauty, femininity, career) and self-identity. A confusing combination; however, they speak to each other. They are in a melancholic loop but also indicate deterioration while attempting to cling to this notion of what is reality and what is just a portrayal in the media.

As I hope to create philosophical awareness and a critical line between projections and reality, I acknowledge my involvement in the creation of new images and constructions.

Our culture at large hasn’t always celebrated all skin colours. How do you think women can cultivate that sense of self-love?

Detachment from the images we see daily is something we must focus on, especially in the age of constant content on social media. We give others and their perceptions of who we are more importance than what we think of ourselves, separated from society. There exists a need to de-purify existing norms by importing them into a middle ground to rethink our own identity, regardless of the power systems.

By creating our own personal ideals, be it in beauty, health or career-wise, we can truly achieve a state of complete excellence that is based on our individual potentials and identities.

“We are all different and also perpetually evolving, and no single concept can ever define or be a guideline for all women at once.”

What is your definition of femininity?

The perfect feminine body/personality in any culture is an embodiment of the ideas of those in power. In the last decade, the South Asian world has barely just shifted from projecting traditional understandings of a moral female figure to greatly emphasising and exaggerating a liberated, modern woman. The struggle and clashes of two extremely strong ideas have resulted in the odd combination of affirming the long-established patriarchal idea of women being timid and physically attractive, whilst bringing forward the idealisation of women “excelling” in both their careers and household.

I strongly reject both constructs and consider femininity as unique to each individual, regardless of gender.

Let’s talk about your beauty routine. What does it look like?

For most of my adult life, I’ve had acne-prone skin. Having tried and tested a number of products, routines and medicines, I have cut down on most and stuck to only 2 to 3 products that I know help calm my skin down. Ducray’s Keracnyl face wash and Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate in the evening are my absolute staples. I’ll apply Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion as a spot treatment. I also use Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Spot Solution and Ultra Facial Cream in the morning before putting on any makeup.

I must admit I do love makeup more than skincare. Having worked with incredible makeup artists on a daily basis, I am always mesmerised by their skills and art. Things that I absolutely cannot do without would be a bit of concealer, blush and a winged eyeliner. Another favourite—Laura Mercier’s translucent powder has been a blessing for my super shiny skin.

A trick that I picked up from my mother is to use a little bit of the day’s lipstick and dab it on my cheeks, nose and eyes for a monochromatic look.

Are there any beauty tips from your culture that you can share?

Rosewater has been used in India for centuries for many different purposes —from flavouring food and drinks to perfume and skincare. For the last couple of years, I’ve been using Kama’s Pure Rose Water as a pick-me-up on hot summer days or as a simple toner.

The one ritual that I have stuck to throughout this pandemic is a cup of ‘Kadha’ (herbal tea) every day. It acts as a basic immunity booster that also soothes the throat. There are many different variations of how it can be made.

“My version is a very basic one; I add grated ginger, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and sometimes turmeric and basil, to water. Bring it to a boil, strain it and add a bit of lemon and honey at the end.”

I’ve always been a hardcore coffee person, but this new addition to my day has really grown on me!

Which beauty standards are you passionate about disrupting?

Fair skin in the Indian context, and the South Asian diaspora, has been a standard that I have never been able to wrap my head around. Renaming a “fairness cream” into a “skin-brightening” product does not take away the damaging notion it perpetuates. I am desperately waiting for the day this antiquated standard is dismantled, especially in a country that is home to people with, quite literally, all skin colours.

Can you share what projects you are working on next?

I have been working on a new body of work that revolves around family archives and their interaction with a performative embodiment of the past and the current self. As my country is currently in the middle of the worst wave of the pandemic, all commercial projects are on hold indefinitely and so are all my planned travels.

What are your goals in the future? What are you working towards?

Creating a healthy balance between the different aspects of my work and being able to let go. Not being too attached to work paves the way for new growth, and that is something that I want to work on more! Also wishing for more travel in a COVID-free world.

Ishita’s Beauty Picks

Ducray Keracnyl Foaming Gel, SGD27
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, SGD80
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, SGD36
Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution, SGD120
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, SGD54
Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder, SGD70
Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Makeup SPF 10 Foundation, SGD71
Kama Ayurveda Pure Rose Water, USD9

If you’d like to support the COVID-19 relief efforts in India, we invite you to do so here: Hemkunt Foundation and GiveIndia.

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