Internationally acclaimed photographer RAGHU RAI may be in his seventies but his energy levels are as boisterous as ever. His latest venture–Creative Image–is a slickly produced photography magazine and has him all excited. He tells Managing Editor RAMESH MENON that the magazine got noticed because of the meticulous research and sensitivity that went into it. The theme for the next issue is: That is life. “Imagine the possibilities, when we have such a theme. It is such fun. I am having the time of my life,” he says while relaxing in his tastefully done office near Qutub Minar, a world heritage site. It did not take him long to figure out whom to invite to inaugurate his magazine—Kuldip Nayar, his first editor (in The Statesman) and Aroon Purie, his last editor (in India Today). Both these jobs held great memories, he says, as he did some wonderful work in both. In the first issue, he took amazing pictures with a smart phone as he travelled all over India. These smart phone photos will now feature in a coffee table book, called India Through the Eyes of Raghu Rai.
VON presents a few of the featured photographs and excerpts from a freewheeling conversation with the master craftsman:
Photography was born in Europe and it was many years later that it came to India in the 1850s. Two British photographers, Samuel Bourne and Charles Sheppard, became icons as they started documenting the British in Calcutta. It inspired many. Raja Deen Dayal in Hyderabad followed later and shone bright with his photos.
Before globalization, any technology that came into India arrived only after it was discarded in the developed world. So we got to see cameras, lenses and even style of photography long after the West had seen it. But now after globalization, every kind of equipment is available.
The internet has also opened great opportunities to learn and see things. Avani, my 13-year-old daughter, was surfing the net one day when she asked me if I wanted to see pictures of my farm. She went to Google Earth and within seconds, moved from one visual to the other and lo and behold, I could see my farm! It was dangerously fascinating as someone could be watching you all the time.
It is again the internet that helps us research the work of the best photographers in the world. It helps us select the best photos. I wanted to bring out a magazine on photography that will amaze viewers. Today, everyone is a photographer as they all have cell phones. Then, there is social media to push their photos.
When I started as a photographer, there were no schools to teach us. Today, there are so many. We have to give them the best from around the world. That is the only way to ensure that our youngsters are not fed stale, repetitive stuff.
The response to our last three issues has been amazing. We are today among the three or four best serious photography magazines in the world and undoubtedly, the best in Asia. This is because we are not crassly commercial. We love photography and respect it. Every page breathes and talks. Every portfolio of a photographer we feature speaks the kind of journey he has gone through.
In the last 50 years, I used to get numerous photography magazines from all over the world. I studied all of them. I told myself that I need to deliver a magazine produced in India that is sensitive and beautiful. One has to put oneself in the shoes of critics who judge our work after looking at the best photographers of the world.
One has to think of critics who judge us looking at the work we produce featuring the best photographers of the world.
We just have 100 pages per issue. I wish we could do 200 pages to enrich people’s spirits and minds. Once our theme is decided, we start our research to pick out the best work of iconic photographers. We select around 300 pictures and put it in a folder. We look at it again with a new eye after three to four days. We keep filtering out the photos till the last minute, retaining only those that have the power and energy to speak to the viewer.
Today, if you are doing anything with creativity, you need to know what had happened before, what is happening today and what will happen in future.
Our last issue was on Landscapes. We dug out archives and researched all that was done in this arena by the world’s best photographers and painters. We got the paintings of Paramjit Singh, one of India’s best landscape painters. We looked at landscapes from 1855 onwards. The result was an amazing issue. We want to focus on Indian and Asian photographers. At the moment, 65 percent is western, mainly from Europe and America.
It is not easy to bring out a magazine today. But I am going to enjoy it as long as it lasts and will work towards making every issue better than the last one. It is worth the effort. It is our responsibility to share whatever we have with future generations so that they do not have to wander around on repetitive paths to discover something wonderful. I want the young to fly in a space where each image, each expression pushes them higher into new levels of awareness so that unknown unpredictable fragrances will be able to recharge their lives.