Celebrated photographer Raghu Rai wanted to be a musician, instead he picked up the camera
Rai, who went on to become a protege of iconic lens man Henri Cartier-Bresson, was ambitious enough for his musical dream, that he ended up owning a violin, a flute and a harmonium pretty early in his life. Clearly, his hand at music did not work, and rest is history.art and culture Updated: Dec 18, 2017 15:42 IST
Having scripted an illustrious career spanning over six decades, Raghu Rai, on his 75th birth anniversary, revealed he never wanted to be a photographer in the first place. He aspired to be a musician instead.
Rai, who went on to become a protege of iconic lens man Henri Cartier-Bresson, was ambitious enough for his musical dream, that he ended up owning a violin, a flute and a harmonium pretty early in his life. Clearly, his hand at music did not work, and rest is history.
“In my childhood, if anybody would have asked me what I would like to become, which nobody did, I would have said -- ‘a musician’. “I tried my hand at everything, but gave up when it didn’t go anywhere,” Rai said at his “surprise” birthday party yesterday at the Imperial here.
A 55-minute documentary film: “Raghu Rai, An Unframed Portrait” by his daughter Avani Rai was screened to mark the occasion. During his versatile career as a photographer, the septuagenarian has captured nature, people and complex emotions in frozen instants through panoramic, wide-angle shots, often creating moments of deep contemplation.
His extensive coverage of the Bangladesh war, the Emergency and the Bhopal gas tragedy, has made Rai the master of his profession. Remembering the first time he clicked a photo, which was published in ‘The Times, London’, he said it was a picture he took “by chance”.
“I had no plans to become a photographer. My brother (S Paul) sent the photo to ‘The Times’ and they published it on half a page with my name on it. “When everybody said it was a big deal, I decided to try taking pictures,” Rai said.
In “Raghu Rai, An Unframed Portrait”, Avani has tried to capture her father at work -- as he instructed her on viewpoints and framing. The film not only portrays a passionate photographer immersed in work, but also shines a light on the father- daughter relationship, determined by the camera -- a source of both connection and friction.
“He expressed his emotions only through the camera, even with me, and I experienced life through his images. I think he can make an image with his eyes closed because he can smell it,” Avani, a photographer herself, said.
Avani, who ventured into filmmaking with the documentary on her father, said she was fascinated by the way he walked into people’s lives, “almost shamelessly”. But, for the celebrated father, it was always about seizing the wholeness of the moment in a picture.
“This (photography) is not a profession, this is my ishq (love). This is my madness. It has grown and intensified over the years. I never forgive Raghu Rai whenever I fail to capture the wholeness of the moment,” he said. Albeit known for his black and white images, Rai said he has always preferred colors.
“Life is in colors,” he said. “I shoot in color and if doesn’t work, I convert it into black and white,” he added. With over 50 books to his credit, the photographer is currently working on another one on spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama, and Sadhguru.
“They are special people who connect you to the supreme energy”. “I believe there is no God. Ram, Krishna, Christ, Allah, Buddha were not Gods. They were great and saintly human beings who came and connected themselves to the supernatural, and made a difference,” he said.
Rai is also known for his powerful series on Mother Teresa and Indira Gandhi. Talking about Gandhi, he said she offered a creative freedom like no other Prime Minister. “She was the only one who respected artists, creative people, heritage and environment. No other PM, so far, has made a difference to us on that level,” Rai said.
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First Published: Dec 18, 2017 15:42 IST