moment in time
been his abiding passion for the past 40 years. His iconic works
are currently on display at a retrospective in the National
Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. Roopinder
Singh takes a look at the world of Raghu Rai and his
Churchgate Railway Station,
Father and My Son,
a stark, black and white 1969 image of a child grasping the
hands of his father, shot by Raghu Rai in Delhi, appears to
capture the world as you enter the National Gallery of Modern
Art at New Delhi.
What a beautiful
moment in time, captured by Indiaís foremost photojournalist,
you feel, as you proceed to explore the journey of a man whose
40 years of work as a photographer are being celebrated by the
retrospective titled A Journey of a Moment in Time: Raghu Rai.
It is the first that a retrospective of a photographer is being
held at the gallery.
The exhibition, on
till April 15, has allowed the lensman several independent
spaces, depicting his journey of the moment. On display are 185
exhibits captured by the iconic photographer.
Movement marks the
picture taken at Churchgate, Mumbaiís famous railway station.
It captures the stream of humanity on the platform. You can feel
the energy and contrast it with the clarity and stillness of the
commuters who are not in a rush.
How well he
captures peopleóa glowering, cigar-smoking Bal Thackeray; Mother
Teresa, the very picture of piety; the intense eyes of Satyajit
Ray; the serenity of the Dalai Lama, and the power as well as
loneliness that emanated from Indira Gandhi. In some images you
see the sycophancy that comes with politics.
Dusk Time at Mahabalipuram, 1996
Rai, 66, captures
slices of life in a unique way. You see a couple flirting on a
Calcutta rooftop; the interaction of people in a Rajasthani
village, or the one photograph that brings home the Bhopal gas
tragedy, Burial of an Unknown Child. You literally hear
notes of music as you go to his section on musicians of India.
Music, Rai says, has been a lifelong passion. He is now working
on a book on musicians.
Raiís very first
photograph, of a donkey, was published in The Times,
London, in 1966. The photograph occupies pride of place in the
exhibition, and he says it was taken at the village of The
Tribuneís Chief Photographer, the late Yog Joy, near
Rohtak. The animal also comes again in another recent frame: Donkeys
on Kargil Heights Rai has extensively documented the Sikhs,
and even brought out a book by the same title, with the text by
Khushwant Singh. He has 18 books to his credit, including Raghu
Raiís Delhi, Calcutta, Khajuraho, Taj
Mahal, Tibet in Exile, India, and Mother
Soon after the
Retrospective was inaugurated, Rai "escaped" to
Anandpur Sahib to revisit the Hola Mohalla festival, which he
also covered in the 1970s as well as in 2002. He has
photographed the Sikhs extensively, capturing their traditions,
customs, as well as the traumas faced by them.
"India is a
multi-religious, multicultural society in which several
centuries live together at the same time. The experience of
India has to be multi-layered and so a moment in time is not
enough. The vision is larger, and what is captured is much more
than what a photographs shows," said Rai, explaining each
frame in an unhurried, intense manner.
At a Nihang Camp,
Punjab 2001 gives a
feel of the centuries that co-exist in India as well as the
panorama format that Rai says is very important to his work now.
"When you are
young, you look for pretty things. You look for small areas,
small spaces, small experiences. As you evolve as a human being,
you start seeing more and you want to capture more. My
panoramics are my most recent and important work because in them
I capture much more than what a photograph normally can. In
pictures, often there is a thing happening, sometimes a thing
with atmosphere. In these, I capture many expressions.
Explaining the picture of a Punjabi wedding, he points out the
wistful expression on the face of the groom, and the queer way
in which the bride and her sister are interacting, all captured
in a single frame.
landscapes have a sense of drama. Ladakh and Lakshadweep
harmoniously come together when put together in adjoining frames
and as you admire a picture of stormy clouds, Rai says: "We
were flying in a helicopter and a storm was approaching. I took
a few photographs and moments later, the helicopter was buffeted
by strong winds and we barely, made it."
as seen through this retrospective, takes us beyond A Moment in
Time. When he is shooting, Rai says, "the emergence of the
unseen and the revelation of the unknown leaves me amazed."
He could well be articulating the reaction of many others who
experience India through Raghu Raiís photographs.
donít believe in nostalgic nonsense
My Father and My Son, Delhi, 1969
Raghu Rai was born
in 1942 in a village in the Jhang area of Pakistan. He spent
some part of his youth in Rohtak and became an engineer.
However, he had been initiated into photography by his elder
brother, S Paul, and it became his abiding passion since the
1960s. He joined The Statesman as its chief photographer.
He was inducted into Magnum Photos in 1977 by legendary
photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who saw Raiís photographs
at an exhibition in Paris. Rai also worked for Sunday and
Excerpts from an
interview with the photographer:
On colour vs
Itís far more
difficult to make a successful photograph in colour than in
black and white. Each colour has its physical response, its
emotional response and if all the colours put together donít
gel, they make a khichdi of colour. To get a strong image
going in colour, we have to find colours with which the place
blends in and which enhance its emotional response. To
understand and respond to colour is difficult. Basically, human
mind wants convenience. We see everything in colour, so when you
put a black and white filter on life, it silences the noise of
colour. Itís far easier to make a good black and white picture
and it is far easier to appreciate the black and white picture.
I donít believe
in nostalgic nonsense and technology is something that you are
using to express yourself. Now, the technology of film was very
cumbersome. When you shot using film, you were not sure about
the results till it was developed and if your developer mucked
it up, you had no recourse left.
Technology is your
tool and new technology gives you greater freedom and greater
control in doing your work. Creativity means looking at the
world with a fresh eye, giving something new, not repeating the
past`85why would you hang on to old technology then? You have to
move with time and make a difference with your expression.
The day I started
taking pictures on a digital camera, about four years ago, I
couldnít go back to using film. It is so much better, and then
you have the ability to click a picture and see it right then.
I still use film
for my panoramic cameras because there is no digital camera
available for it, when I get one, I will switch.
My father was
posted in Rohtak. A kind of beginning was made then. I learnt
from my brother S Paul. Yog Joy and I interacted with the
proprietor of Grover Studio there.
I never wanted to
be a photographer. I had great love for music, but my father
wanted me to be an engineer, which I did. I took up a government
job for a year, and then came to Delhi. When I was staying with
my brother, I came back to photography.
Donít take all
those good pictures that you have seen before. We are human
machines which get programmed each day. When we are young, our
parents are doing it to us; in school, our teachers do it; our
neighbours do it. You need to de-programme your mind, your
thinking, your attitude, your mindset. Youngsters should look
for their own kind of voice. ó Photos by Raghu Rai