RAGHU RAI.

THE FATHER OF INDIAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Why is the background blurred? Everything should be honest!

– Raghu Rai

A couple of weeks ago I watched “Raghu Rai: An Unframed Portrait”, a documentary directed and produced by Avani Rai, daughter of the legendary photographer and once protégé of Henry Cartier-Bresson. In it one is made privy to some beautifully intimate moments of this Magnum photographer’s life and his extraordinary work.

Known as the “Father of Indian Photography,” Rai was born in Jhang, a small city in British India that after its independence, became part of Pakistan. He studied civil engineering but in 1965, unable to find a job, his brother encouraged him to get into photography and attend a weekly “The Times” contest which he consequently won. One year later he began working at The Statesman newspaper in New Delhi and did so until 1976 after which he became an independent photographer. Between 1982 and 1992 he worked as director of photography at India Today.

His work has been featured in numerous publications including Time, Life, GEO, The New York Times, The Sunday Times, Newsweek, The Independent and The New Yorker.

So what makes Raghu Rai’s work so interesting?

In my opinion there are several factors but one of them is having had the boldness to have photographed in black and white throughout his entire career. Why is this bold? Well, if you think about any photographer who has ever worked in India you will realise that the vast majority have been seduced by its irresistible colour, but not Rai. Perhaps influenced by Bresson or due to the inaccessibility to color film at the beginning, the Indian photographer has stayed true to black and white throughout.

When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!

– Ted Grant

Undoubtedly Raghu Rai is one of the great specialists in capturing the emotions and the souls of his subjects. From Mother Teresa to the Dalai Lama and during major disasters such as the one in Bhopal, Rai’s black and white photographs manage to draw us in, empathise with the subjects and make us feel like part of the scene.

True to Robert Capa’s famous saying “If your photos are not good enough, you’re not close enough” Rai always works close, very close and with great compositional quality. This coupled with the lack of distractions of color makes his work incredible, to say the least, and with a great capacity to transmit that few photographers achieve.

As a photographer I find it vitally important to study the great masters and when you see or read interviews with legends like Raghu Rai you realise that there is one thing that everyone agrees on, the answer to the question that all interviewers ask: What makes a good photo?

What do you think the answer is?

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