Raghu Rai talks about capturing the vibrancy and warmth of power women.
At 70, Raghu Rai brims with enthusiasm when the topic of conversation is photography. “I don't want to look like a photographer. People become conscious when they see a photographer arrive with lights, reflectors and tripods. The more equipment you carry, the more it saps your energy levels and restricts your mobility. I like to work with one camera and a lens. When you walk into situations without making your subjects uncomfortable, you get better frames,” he says, as he begins to talk about his work as a part of ‘Women Changing India', the exhibition currently on display at Kalakriti Art Gallery.
His lens captures India's power women — Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Anu Aga, Mahasweta Devi, Aruna Roy, Swati Piramal, Laila Tyabji and Anjoli Ela Menon among others — in candid moments. “Corporate women are used to being photographed in a certain way. They look into the camera and smile. I wanted to capture the human spirit and the warmth behind the boss,” says Rai. So we see Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaisingh with her head thrown back, in a rare smile, while a poster of Mithun Chakraborty's film Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye stands witness to her moods in the background.
The right frame
Rai has a way with capturing personalities. His photographs of Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa and M.S. Subbulakshmi are now studied by photography students. Says Rai, “I like photographs to reflect the vibrant, creative nature of people. Most of them don't understand why photographers need to shoot many frames before getting the right one. Once, I was shooting portraits of Mother Teresa as she was interacting with people. At one point she turned to me and said ‘don't you think you have taken enough photographs?' With someone like Mother Teresa, I couldn't argue.”
Rai feels it will take a long time for India to recognise photography as an art form. “People glance at pictures and move away. They don't have the patience to ‘read a picture', understand expressions and the context. Either you understand the world of sensitivity or you don't,” he says.
The veteran is in no hurry to slow down. Quiz him on his forthcoming books and he says, “There are many. For years, I focused on people. Now I've moved to nature and spirituality. There are books coming up on the Golden Temple, on trees and on clouds. I have photographed trees in different seasons in different lights. It's sheer poetry by nature.”
Also, there's a book on Bangladesh's liberation. “I was in Bangladesh during the liberation. Unfortunately, I had misplaced the negatives and found them recently, after 40 years,” he says with a smile.
World of women
Here is a collection of photographs that exudes positivity. These photographs capture unforgettable moments, tell you a story of hope and progress. The exhibition ‘Women Changing India' travelled the world before arriving in Hyderabad.
Six photographers of Magnum Photos group — Alessandra Sanguinetti, Alex Webb, Patrick Zachmann, Olivia Arthur, Martine Franck and Raghu Rai — take you on a journey, from the villages in Bhuj to interiors of Tamil Nadu and from Infosys Training Centre in Mysore to corporate boardrooms where women call the shots.
Alex Webb's photographs, ‘Women Driving Change,' give us a glimpse of women taxi drivers through their car windows. We see these women getting trained in karate for self-defence and learning driving using simulators. Webb skilfully takes us into the backrooms of plush malls where women security guards get ready for a long day and to petrol pumps manned by women.
Alessandra Sanguinetti captures women ‘Behind the Scenes' in Bollywood. On the sets of Farah Khan's Tees Maar Khan, we see the director-choreographer at the helm, Katrina at work on her laptop as she awaits the next shot, a woman costume designer and a woman production assistant at work.
Martine Franck's ‘Banking on Ourselves' takes us to Bhuj, into the homes of women adorned with colourful bangles. Aided by a self help group, these women stitch a livelihood out of Kutchi embroidery.
Patrick Zachmann's ‘Empowerment at the Grassroots' focuses on a village in Trichy district, Tamil Nadu, where women find their voice with the help of Salma, who fights against the district collector to get unauthorised occupants to vacate public land.
Olivia Arthur focuses on Generation Next and ventures into radio stations to click women RJs, halts at the Infosys Training Centre, Mysore, where young women find their space in the sprawling atrium. Olivia's lens frames young women in Infosys lecture rooms and a student of neurology at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
The exhibition is on at Kalakriti Art Gallery till March 23. ‘Women Changing India' was commissioned by BNP Paribas to mark their 150th anniversary in 2010. The complete collection of photographs was released in a book format, with texts by Tarun J. Tejpal, Annie Zaidi, Mukul Kesavan, Amita Baviskar, Namrata Joshi and Mitali Saran.
Keywords: photography exhibition