Musings of a shutterbug

FREEZE FRAME Raghu Rai: `The medium becomes powerless beyond a point'  


Ace photographer Raghu Rai insists there is no substitute to the experience that comes with travelling.

I need ten lives to do some thing about my country, but unfortunately I am having only one life

At an age, when most of his fellow photographers are planning to walk in to their golden sunset, he is still rearing to go. Attired in jeans, a loose shirt, and camera slung over his shoulder, the country's most renowned photographers, Raghu Rai is a quiet man. He has to his credit, several coffee table books such as Taj Mahal, Khajuraho, Tibet in Exile, The Sikhs, The Calcutta, Delhi: a portrait, Raghu Rai's Delhi, and many others. He is a celebrity now, but life was not easy when he positioned himself behind the camera in the 60s. His teachers Kishore Parekh ( Hindustan Times) and S. Paul ( Indian Express), both 10 years his seniors, were struggling to do something different. But as they taught Rai the ropes of the demanding profession, little did they realise that he would offer them a stiff competition in the coming years.


Memories have faded, but Rai's images, even those dating back to the 60s, have a haunting quality to them. He worked as photo-editor for India Today, but he quit soon to discover the world on his own terms. In between, he got involved working for Magnum photos and his pictures appeared in Time, National Geographic, New York Times and The Sunday Times. Now Raghu Rai is a freeman with a free will, and a streak of madness that can safely be labelled as creativity. Eleven of his works are now a part of the permanent collection displayed at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. The visit of Rai to Shravanabelagola at the fag end of Mahamastakabhisheka raised many eyebrows and many photographers, who congregated to freeze those glorious moments, and were dying to know if he was bringing out a book on the Jain god, Gomateshwara. Rai however, didn't promise a book, though he would have loved to do it. "I wanted to visit Shravanabelagola during the monsoon to capture the natural flow of rain water on the colossus figure."

Getting involved

Awestruck by the image of Gommata, which wears an unmatched serenity, Rai feels insignificant before it, which stands tall, literally and metaphorically. "The medium becomes powerless beyond a point. The emotions, energy, and exuberance it stirs in me surpasses what words can say. It pulls you, challenges you, and tells you how insignificant you are." It's not surprising from a philosophical Rai that he refuses to accept the fact that his life changed at a certain point. He says each day is challenging in itself. "Each step has to be a turning point, a liberating moment."

Honing skills

Does maturity come with age? "Maturity comes with vision, intensity and discipline. As a photographer, one has to develop a vision that captures the essence of what he is shooting and this comes with years of experience, which lifts photographers from ordinary pictures to something, that conveys a thousand words." Speaking on the present-day photojournalism, Rai observes that it is not right to blame them alone. Newspapers and magazines, he says, have become market-driven products. They have become mediocre in their urge to serve the market forces. Photojournalists are unfortunately not educated enough to understand life, human experiences, visions and insights in depth. "It is really a shocking development. We find The Hindu in Delhi more responsive, because it has chosen to remain conservative and value-based," he notes. Not that Rai has qualms about modernisation. Reacting to digital photography, he says, digital technology is the most wonderful thing to have happened to photography. "Digital technology is more advanced and if technology can help you in communicating and expressing yourself in a better manner you got to be doing that. You can't be caught in a time warp. You have to be alive to technology and use it for your benefit," he advises.

The basics

Update that he is on technology, Raghu Rai believes that there is no substitute to travelling. "I am a pilgrim. I travel all over the country with complete faith. India, to me, is the whole world. I need ten lives to do some thing about my country, but unfortunately I am having only one life," says Rai, with touching modesty. On the books he is doing now, he says, he is more intense, more sort of fulfilling as an experience."Earlier, I wanted to be more dramatic and different. Now I am working with intensity of emotions and purity of energy, which could be quiet, yet intense from inside. I am editing my earlier works with a cool eye, warm heart and stronger emotions," he confesses.