South Asian Photo 101 is a set of blog post designed to explore all the basics one needs to know to have a general understanding of photography in South Asia from artist to art galleries and festivals.
Imambara, Lucknow, 1992
As a student of photography in the early 2000’s I was often introduced to photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Capa. However, I was rarely exposed to none American or European photographers. Raghu Rai is an Indian a photographer from this earlier time; time when art photography and photojournalism more easily mingled. He is one of the most prolific Indian photographers of modern times. Here I will explore his background, his career and his philosophy on photography.
Raghu Rai was born in 1942 in what is now Jhang, Pakistan (however, he was born before partition, thus making him India). He began making photographs in 1965 at the age of 23. Only a year after picking up the camera, he became the Chief Photographer at “The Statesman”. He left this paper in 1976 to work as the Picture Editor of “Sunday” a weekly news magazine out of Calcutta. After 4 years, he left “Sunday” and took the jobs of Editor and Photographer at “India Today,” India’s leading news magazine (http://pro.magnumphoto.com/c.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL535PGF, accessed 12/21/2016).
During his time at “India Today” Rai covered many stories throughout South Asia. The breadth of his work can be seen on an Amazon.in book search. My search retrieved 30 books by Rai including subjects in India, Bangladesh and Tibet. Furthermore, he has exhibited in India, the United States, Europe, Australia and the United Kingdom (Nag, Alakananda, “In Conversation with Raghu Rai,” Visura Magazine, March 2013, httP://www.visuramagazine.com/inconversation-raghu-rai, accessed 12/20/2016). He has made general documentary photographs around South Asia including Mother Teresa and Bangladesh’s war for freedom, just to name a few. Furthermore, during his tenure at “India Today” Rai was nominated by Cartier-Bresson to join Magnum Photography.
Raghu Rai also has a photography school, Raghu Rai School of Photography, with his son Nitin who is also a photojournalist. Rai says he started the school because, “The purpose of photography is to document the times we are living in with sensitivity and commitment, because this is going to be tomorrow’s photo history. And documentary photography is not being taught with this in mind” (Nag, Alakananda, “In Conversation with Raghu Rai,” Visura Magazine, March 2013, httP://www.visuramagazine.com/inconversation-raghu-rai, accessed 12/20/2016). Recently I did a Photo Focus post on Anushree Fadivas, and I can see this statement in her work. It is refreshing that I can find an obvious connection between Rai’s statement about photography and a former student’s work.
Raghu Rai is a prolific photographer and has had an amazing career as an editor and photographer. He definitely deserves the same respect and coverage of other Magnum photographers such as Cartier-Bresson. Rai has not only documented the history of India for Indians but for the global community as well.
Mother Teresa, 1990’s
Wrestling School, Delhi, 1989