Books: the right state of mind

The pandemic has been a time of extremes for most people. While for some it has been a time of extreme sadness and uncertainty, others credit the pandemic for helping them make life-altering decisions, or that the sudden halt to their schedules loaded has actually helped them get back to old, unfinished projects that needed attention.

On his centenary, Raghu Rai has published a book of unpublished portraits of the late author Satyajit Ray, which he took three decades ago.

Renowned photographer Raghu Rai certainly has the pandemic to thank for giving him time to return to his huge collection of unused and unseen photos. “Since a restless and creative explorer with boundless energy, like me, cannot afford to remain inactive, so during these months of meditative isolation, I decided to dig into my archives, into all that I had photographed over the past 50 years and over the past 18 months I have managed to organize a dozen books on different themes and topics that I have covered,” reveals Raghu Rai with a hearty laugh as I catch up for a quick chat just before the release of one of his books, co-authored with Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India.

A photograph of Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India

French connection

Title To France-In Indiathe release of the book (which took place on April 26 at the Alliance Française in Delhi) also marks the start of a month-long exhibition featuring some of the photos taken by Raghu Rai and Emmanuel Lenain.

France holds a special place in Raghu’s heart and he refers to it as his “eternal muse”. His love for the country is evident when he says: “France is like a pilgrimage for me – the camera was invented in France at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, also known as the Académie des Beaux -Arts of Paris. Interestingly, in 2019 he received a call from the same academy saying he was one of 16 photographers from around the world shortlisted for an award. The next day, he received a call telling him that he had won! This is how he became the first photographer to win the first edition of the Academy of Fine Arts Photography Prize – William Klein.

Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India

The award was presented to him at a ceremony he attended with his wife Gurmeet and daughter Avani. In fact, in the book, the section on France ends with a photo of Raghu receiving the award; the photo was taken by Avani.

But Raghu has another strong bond with France: his unique friendship with one of the world’s greatest photographers, Henry Cartier-Bresson, who invited Raghu Rai to join Magnum Photos, a rare honor at the time. “From my very first exhibition in Paris in 1971, France has always greatly appreciated my work, and I have always seen that good photography and photographers are always respected there. In 1998, a French magazine, Le Figaro invited six photographers from around the world to capture the spirit of Paris. I was one of them and was commissioned to photograph Montmartre, which really inspired me. I’ve always had a special connection with France and that’s why it’s like a pilgrimage for me,” says Raghu whose photos of France, spread over 100 pages, are a beautiful mix of landscapes, Montmartre, of events, bustling streets and the different facets of human emotions.

Images of France taken by Raghu Rai

Sharing space and an equal number of pages in the book, Emmanuel Lenain shows his love for India through a variety of images ranging from that of superstar Rajnikant to the convoluted alleyways of Old Delhi, from the sacred ghats of Varanasi to the crematoriums haunting during Covid times, to beautiful scenery and more.

“I met Emmanuel two years ago at an event at the embassy. After chatting, he asked if he could show me some pictures. When he asked me if we could do something together, I told him about my love for France and suggested that we do a book and an exhibition together about our passion for each other’s country. And that’s how this book came about,” reveals Raghu, who believes in intuition and instinctive response when choosing photographs versus style.

Raghu Rai takes over France

In addition to this, some of the other books Raghu Rai has completed during the pandemic include a book on the Himalayas, sacred rivers of India, and landscapes of the world. He is also ready with another book on Bengal, which he says no one has ever done before. However, one book that is really close to his heart is his tribute to one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, someone he affectionately calls “Dadu”, Satyajit Ray.

Another of Satyajit Ray’s portraits of Raghu Rai

picture perfect

Filled with love, respect, reverence, and the magic of Raghu Rai’s expertise, the book is divided into four sections, showcasing the filmmaker in every possible mood, setting, and emotion. It has up to 70 photos of the filmmaker, taken over a period of just two days, but capturing a lifetime of emotions.

Delhi seen through the lens of Emmanuel Lenain

“Satyajit Ray or ‘Dadu’ as I would call him, was a magnificent man who always showed dignity, sensitivity and respect for everyone. I always admired him for that and saw him as a creative artist who took the ordinary of everyday life and turned it into something magical,” says Raghu.

Recalling his very first encounter with the maestro in 1974 as a young photographer at the National Film Awards, Raghu says he felt an inexplicable need to connect with him. Then, in the 1960s, he discovered Ray’s cinema and was fascinated by his trilogy. Pather Panchali (1955) followed by Apparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959). Finally, in 1980, he had the opportunity to spend time with Ray on the sets of Ghare Baire.

Photos of Delhi by Emmanuel Lenain

“It was like a dream come true. I was filming everything and I was afraid of missing even a single frame. Although I felt nervous in his presence, the sensitivity of his eyes, the dignity and the The affection he has is reflected in most of his portraits and is unforgettable,” Raghu recalls.

Unfortunately, after returning from Kolkata, Raghu realized that many of the photographs he had taken of Satyajit Ray in his house were underexposed and underdeveloped, and could not be used at that time. . But, thanks to digital technology, the same unused images finally came to life and the same images were used to produce this book.

Raghu Rai

“I lived in guilt for 35 years. But when I finally saw the photos, I realized that I managed to capture Dadu in different situations, moods and expressions. I had somehow taken some of my best photographs of him. And with 2021 being his centenary year, the timing was just perfect. My friend and art curator, Ina Puri, helped me put the book together perfectly,” says Raghu.

The pandemic may have constrained Raghu Rai for a while, and he feels bad about not taking many pictures during this time, but his restless mind is already planning for a book, which he says will be a compilation. of some of the best works of photographers. covering the pandemic.

We are already looking forward to the same.

From HT Brunch, April 30, 2022

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    Veenu Singh writes about art, culture and Bollywood for HT’s Sunday magazine, Brunch.
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