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HindustanTimes Sun,13 Jul 2014
Rai Here, Rai Now
Rachel Lopez, Hindustan Times
October 27, 2012
First Published: 16:05 IST(27/10/2012)
Last Updated: 16:16 IST(27/10/2012)

Mumbaikars ARE born opportunists. On a sliver of empty land in a Kala Ghoda bylane, they’ll dream up a bright, all-organic café. And 10 days later half the city, it seems, will have dropped in, chatted up a storm and polished off most of the food. Oh yes, everybody seizes the moment.

No wonder Raghu Rai feels right at home at The Pantry. The Magnum photographer, whose work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and National Geographic, didn’t get to where he was without seizing every moment too. Now nearly 70, Delhi-based Rai is in town for Tasveer and Vacheron Constantin’s show ‘Divine Moments’ at ICIA gallery. It showcases some 25 images from Rai’s 47-year career.

Raghu Rai (Photo: Arijit Sen; Location courtesy The Pantry, Kala Ghoda)

Seated by a window, nibbling on warm scones, almond cakes, lasagna and coffee, Rai turns time and again to the view outside. For a man who’s captured the India that Indians turn from, the Fort neighbourhood seems a good place for the mind to wander.

You’ve said you don’t like to exhibit, that people spend only five seconds with each photo. Yet here you are...
Exhibiting used to be difficult earlier. You took a few pictures, spent two months in the darkroom with each print... It was so much trouble, like marrying off your daughter. Now, everything’s digitised. You touch up your scans, press a button and a flawlessly beautiful print is made. More galleries now focus only on photography, making it easier.

Having said that, little has changed with audiences. Their mind’s eye is so pre-occupied, it doesn’t have the patience to read a photo. Read every inch of it. Why is it important? Because every little thing matters in this world. Or nothing matters.
Frame of reference: Rai’s legendary shot of Mother Teresa

Your first image, a shot of a donkey that won you acclaim at 23, is part of the show. What’s changed since?
I have come a long way from chasing that donkey! I am more passionate about taking pictures now than when I started. And I’ve been lucky to work with editors who’ve respected my understanding. Even my first editor at The Statesman in 1965 (India’s most prestigious paper at the time) supported my choices because I came from the guts of reality. I spent another 10 years with India Today. Aroon Purie [the founder] and I grew together so we had a kind of intense relationship. Intense affairs are essential – without them you have nothing.

Your birthplace Jhhang, is now in Pakistan. Do you feel the need to document it with the same intensity?
I did in fact go back there, intending to take some pictures. But I was only four years old during Partition and have only a vague memory of a small lane, some 15-20 homes on either side, and our own three-storey at the end of the street. I went looking for it and I just couldn’t find it. But I had so much fun! Everybody there gave me some love and affection and chai. I think everything happened, except me discovering my house – and I absolutely loved it.

Do you remember every picture you’ve taken? Or do they all blend into one gigantic image of India?

I am a tough guy, you know? I shoot a lot but I am a ruthless editor and I only share with the world what I think has some magic moments, some energy. I don’t share everything with everyone. And in most cases I remember every picture. But unlike everyone else, I can’t pick a favourite. It’s like standing in front of a building, one you love and being asked, ‘Which is the most important brick in this building?’ I am a product of little and large experiences and even the little experiences matter to me. So I won’t revalue and devalue an image – each has contributed to my life.

Frame of reference: Rai’s legendary shot of Mother Teresa

Focused advice
On how to be invisible to your subject
“I’m a six-foot-tall man with a camera. I can’t hide myself. But there is something called body language. It’s a kind of stillness, a discipline you acquire so even when you’re shooting 100 people, no one looks at you.”

On how to take a good picture

“All those good pictures you’ve even seen in your life? Drop them from your memory, empty your head of them, and nature will provide you something fresh and unique. I think above all, a photograph should have the energy to live for itself.”

On how to better your talent

“Never ever be happy that you’ve found one intelligent thing in your frame. Keep at it and look for two, then three layers of meaning that compose your image. That’s when you will know you have something different from the rest.”

From HT Brunch, October 28

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