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‘One camera and one lens are good enough’

Ace photographer RAGHU RAI, who was in the city recently, spoke to Metro about his journey, his art and more...

You have framed the changing face of India…

India has changed drastically and not for the good. It’s unfortunate the way this country is moving politically and socially. Economically we have grown in certain areas and the country has become a focal point as a consumer market. This is making us lose our identity, especially in the metro cities. Developments are happening in a haphazard manner. The new architecture is directionless and expressionless; they do not have the aesthetic appeal of the heritage structures built by the Mughals, Hindu kings and the British.

What was your thought behind opening the Raghu Rai Center for Photography along with your son Nitin Rai in Gurgaon?

Nitin worked with Sunday for several years. Next he was freelancing for foreign magazines till he got an offer from Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication to teach photography, which he did for five-six years. That’s when he realised that these institutions run courses in their own style.

He had ideas about what we could possibly teach if we had our own centre for photography, how we could run it differently. Maintaining the essence of the guru-shishya parampara, we hope that our centre wouldn’t just teach photographers how to shoot and earn money. We want to uplift young minds to another level of consciousness, making them creative and evolved individuals through photography.

What according to you is a good photograph?

A beautiful picture is a beautiful picture, but shots that capture something new, different and rare are brilliant.

And what kind of photographs do you absolutely detest?

Oh god! Over the years, I have seen millions of images and god forbid I don’t want to see them again. Dekho, darshan abhilashi toh aap samjhte honge, toh main bhi darshan paane ki chahat main hoon, chahein woh aap karaye ya koi aur. Mujhe kyu basa kaam dekhna hai, mujhe kyun rang birange tasveere dekhni hai (You must know the meaning of darshan abhilashi. Even I am looking forward to that darshan in life, be it through you or someone else. Why would I want to see some work that is stale or maybe just colourful)?

What kind of gear do you carry for a shoot?

(Pointing at the camera that hung from his shoulder through the interview) Just this much. I don’t want to look like a professional. I have also learned to live with one camera and one lens, which are good enough for me.

Digital SLRs have been selling like hot cakes as more and more people, especially youngsters, turn hobby photographers…

Thanks to mobile cameras, digital photography has turned into a disease. But again, it is a disease with many potentials. It will turn out some brilliant results and some mediocre, but it is perfectly fine. The young minds will experiment, fool around and then discover a value system behind photography to come back to it seriously.

What is your take on the Travelling Lens workshop (see below) at Allahabad?

Normally I don’t associate myself with commercial people. But through such workshops, there are things to be taught and passed on.

People generally go to Kumbh Mela and take close-ups of sadhus, ghats, this and that, forgetting about the strong undercurrent of endless faith flowing through that place. People turn up there from all over the country… who are they, what the mela means to them in the larger context, and the many contradictions because of globalisation.... So the idea is to take a set of photographers away from the routine, predictable petty pictures, and get into the spirit of the place.

What is your advice for budding photographers?

Don’t take all those good pictures that are stored in your head.

Are any photographs etched in your memory?

None. If they get etched in your memory, it means you are stamped and stopped by that etching. You are not to be coloured by any vision or idea. Only then can you capture and reflect nature and life’s magic as it comes to you.

Who are the photographers you admire?

André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastião Salgado, Josef Koudelka… there are so many whose work and integrity I respect. But when I work, none of them exist for me. My work is creative and thinking about the great masters will always be too heavy a weight on my head.

What are your passions other than photography?

Khetibari and Indian classical music… sometimes I dance to the music also.

Do you have a Calcutta connection?

I was working for The Statesman in Delhi, when the editor, Desmond Doig, called me up and said: “You have to come down to Calcutta. I met a lady, she’s unbelievable.” I asked who but he didn’t answer. When I came to Calcutta, he took me straight to Mother Teresa. It was 1970. Since then I have shared a strange association with Mother. In fact, I would often end up telling people that “my mother is in Calcutta”.

What was surprising was the fact that the mother I met in 1970 — passionate, loving and devoted was the same person who left us after receiving the Bharat Ratna and the Nobel Prize. She never fluctuated as a human being.

Workshop at Mela

Travel and photography is an age-old combination. Travelling Lens, which has city boys Varun Gupta and Rahul Dhankani at the helm and has been organising workshops and photo treks for three years, wants to make the combo even more potent by getting master photographers to guide the frames. The company has organised workshops by Raghu Rai, Abbas from Magnum, Prashant Panjiar, Tom Bourdon and Yannick Cormier at the Maha Kumbh Mela from January 24 to February 20. For more information, log on to