In Picturing Time, Raghu Rai, India’s greatest living photographer, puts together the finest pictures he has taken over the course of a pictures he has taken over the course of a career that spans fifty years. His photographs of war, faith, monuments like the Taj Mahal, ordinary Indians, our greatest leaders, saints and charlatans, deserts and much else besides in black and white, and in colour, are imprinted on our memory. However, they have never been collected before in a single book. To add to our appreciation of these extraordinary pictures. Most of them are accompanied by the photographer’s insight into how, when, why and where they were taken.
Raghu Rai recorded the nation’s history a it was being made. This book shows the humanity that lies the heart of that history. It is this humanity that reaches out to the reader, and makes viewing these pictures such a memorable experience. As he says in the introduction to his book, ‘If people can connect with my pictures and enjoy them that is enough for me. It‘s like you are walking down the street and you smile at someone and they smile back. There is nothing given and nothing taken. It is just like a little nudge, a recognition of humanity and life. That is what photography means to me.’
In his half a century as a photographer, Raghu Rai has wan many national and international awards and accolades including being nominated in 1971 by Henri Cartier-Bresson to Magnum Photos. His solo exhibition has travelled to London, Paris, New York, Hamburg, Prague, Tokyo, Zurich and Sydney. His photo essays have appeared in Time, the Sunday Times, Newsweek, The Independent, and the New Delhi.
In The Prophet, Kahilil Gibran writes :
Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you…
Life’s longing for itself-that is what I feel my photographs should reflect. Closer home, we have the divine concept of darshan, which is very previous to me. Darshan is not merely seeing a particular person or place, but the experiencing of the reality of a place, a person the physical and the inner aura, reflected in its entirely – that is darshan. That is what I feel great photography is all about.
I began taking pictures in my mid twenties. At the time I was a civil engineer and had a government job for a year but my heart was not in at all. So I came to live with my elder brother, .S Paul, in Delhi. My brother was chief photographer at the Indian Express and Kishore Parekh was chief photographer at the Hindustan Times. People noticed their work and began talking about good photographs appearing in these Indian newspapers. Both Paul and Parekh were more than a decade senior than I, and would have an inspiring influence on me. I worked with kishore Parekh at the Hindustan Times for a year and quit the hob to join a friend, Rajinder Puri, who was bringing out an evening paper called Lok. The experiments ran for three months before funds dried up. I hadn’t told my parents that I’d quit my job with HT or mentioned anything about the evening paper. I ran away to Corbett Park for a week. My family began looking for me. When I finally told them. They were disappointed in later years. Whenever anyone asked my father, ‘How many sons do you have? He would reply,’ I had four sons. and two have gone photographers.’ He could as well have said we had ‘gone crazy.’
In the 1960s. The statesman was a very-respected newspaper. Ivan Chariton, an Englishman, was its editor. Their brand of journalism was so clear and strong and committed. The chief photographer at the time was retiring. So I applied and got the job. And so it was that in 1965, Kishore Parekh was the chief photographer at the Hindustan Times, my elder brother Paul was chief at the Indian Express, and I was in-charge of the photo department at The Statesman. I knew Paul and Parekh were brilliant photographers and found myself at The Statesman. I knew Paul and Parekh were brilliant photographers and found myself sandwiched between these two big guys. When you’re in a situation like that, you either get crushed or you sprout, and I was lucky to have the initial encouragement from my brother which ensured that I sprouted and started growing in my own in this field.
One of my brother’s close friends. Yog joy, originally landowner/farmer was becoming a keen photographer. A very warm and gentle human being, he had come to visit Paul and was planning to go back to his village, about 50km from Delhi, to visit his farm and take pictures Since I liked him for being what he was, and since I wasn’t doing anything at the time, I decided to go with him for two-three days and on a whim asked my brother to give me a camera. He loaded film in an Agfa Super Sillete, a small camera, for me and briefly explained how to operate the exposure and focus. We reached Yog’s village that afternoon While he was photographing the village children in the streets. I stood around watching Suddenly on the other side. I saw a baby donkey, looking cute and strange. As I went closer to take a picture, the baby donkey started running and the children had a hearty laugh. Then I deliberately began chasing the donkey to amuse the children further finally, the baby donkey grew exhausted and came to a standstill, and I took a picture and I got this close-up of its face in soft focus, my first photograph.
This was the picture my brother sent to The Times in London. I the mid 1960s The Times used to print a half-page photo every weekend of something unusual, funny, strange or ironic. The picture editor there was Norman Hal, who went on to be editor of the British Journal of Photography annual and had previously edited the reputed Photography of that time like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White and Bill Brandt. He published it as a half-page picture in the paper with my byline and that was the beginning of my journey as a photographer.
In 1982, I was doing my second book on Delhi and walking around Old Delhi. It’s a place that has always been important to me because of its character, its architecture, the heritage and life in the streets and by-lanes- it’s another world altogether. I had been taking picutures around Jama Masjid when Saeed Bhai , a local MLA, a tall, nice gentleman approached me and asked what I was doing. He had noticed me earlier and was curious to know why I was wandering around the area with a camera. When I explained that I was doing a picture book on Delhi, and that Jama Masjid and old Delhi were both special places to me, he asked me to follow him and promised that I would not be disappointed by what I saw.
So we walked to his place through a maze of lanes and climbed to the roof. The highest point in the area, and suddenly the entire city lay in front of me. On one side was Jama Masjid, to my right was the Red Fort, along with a splendid display of other buildings, all old and Mughal architecture, and on the other side was New Delhi-Connaught Place with its modern buildings and skyscrapers coming up. I think it was late August or early September, when the evenings get pleasant, and there were people everywhere, sitting on rooftops. Children playing and flying kites. I think it was late August or early September, when the evenings get pleasant, and there were people everywhere, sitting on rooftops, children playing and flying kites. I took a lot of pictures before the sun went down. It was getting dark and I thought no point clicking now, the light was very low.
Though I had taken a lot of photographs that day something was amiss- I had’t been able to ‘connect with the energies in a specific way’ that would capture the strength and spirit of the of the enormous experience of standing where I was, above the city just as I was coming down the stairs- and these were open steps, not covered from the top-I saw this lady praying in a house across from where I stood I looked up and there were these clouds over Jama Masjid. I took a few quick pictures but I was scared because the light was low and it was slow exposure luckily. It wasn’t a hundred percent sharp, but sharp enough. ‘Evening Prayer’ won me a god in an international competition and recently got published as a full-page in The Guardian.
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