Books: The Right Mood

The pandemic has been a time of extremes for most people. While for some it has been a time of extreme sadness and uncertainty, there are others who thank the pandemic for helping them make life-changing decisions, or for the fact that the sudden interruption of their hectic schedules actually helped them. return to the old and unfinished. projects that needed attention.

In his centenary year, Raghu Rai has published a book of never-before-seen portraits of the late author Satyajit Ray, which he took three decades ago.
In his centenary year, Raghu Rai has published a book of never-before-seen portraits of the late author Satyajit Ray, which he took three decades ago.

Celebrated photographer Raghu Rai certainly has the pandemic to thank for giving him the time to go back to his huge collection of unused and unpublished photographs. “Since a creative and restless explorer with boundless energy, like me, cannot afford to remain inactive, during those months of meditative isolation, I decided to dig into my archives, into everything I had photographed in the last 50 years and in the last 18 months, I have managed to curate a dozen books on different topics and topics that I have covered”, reveals Raghu Rai with a laugh as I catch up with him for a short chat just before the release of one of his books, co-authored with Emmanuel Lenain, the French ambassador to India.

A photograph of Emmanuel Lenain, the French ambassador to India
A photograph of Emmanuel Lenain, the French ambassador to India

french connection

Noble To France-In IndiaThe book launch (which took place on April 26 at the Alliance Francaise in Delhi) also marks the beginning of a month-long exhibition showcasing some of the photographs taken by Raghu Rai and Emmanuel Lenain.

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

Emmanuel Lenain, French Ambassador to India
Emmanuel Lenain, French Ambassador to India

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

But Raghu has another strong connection to France: his unique friendship with one of the world’s greatest photographers, Henry Cartier-Bresson, who had invited Raghu Rai to join Magnum Photos, a rare honor in those days. “Since my first exhibition in Paris in 1971, France has always appreciated my work immensely, 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 I was assigned to photograph Montmartare, which really inspired me. I have always had a special connection with France and so it is like a pilgrimage for me,” says Raghu, whose photographs of France, spread over 100 pages, are a beautiful mix of landscapes, Montmartre, events, vibrant streets and the various facets of human emotions.

Images of France taken by Raghu Rai
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, from superstar Rajnikant to the winding alleys of Old Delhi, the holy ghats of Varanasi and the haunting crematoria during Covid times, to the beautiful scenery and more.

“I met Emmanuel two years ago at an embassy event. After talking, he asked me 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 gut response when choosing photographs versus style.

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Raghu Rai captures France
Raghu Rai captures France

In addition to this, some of the other books that Raghu Rai completed during the pandemic include a book on the Himalayas, the holy rivers of India, and the landscapes of the world. He is also ready with another book on Bengal, which he says no one has done before. However, one book that is definitely 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 Raghu Rai portraits
Another of Satyajit Ray’s Raghu Rai portraits

Perfect picture

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

Delhi seen through the lens of Emmanuel Lenain
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 all. I have always admired him for that and I have seen him as a creative artist who took the ordinariness of life and turned it into something magical”, says Raghu.

Recalling his first encounter with the master 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 was introduced to Ray’s films and was fascinated by his trilogy. Pather Panchali (1955) followed by gadget (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959). Finally, in 1980, she had the opportunity to spend time with Ray on the sets of Ghare Baire.

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Emmanuel Lenain's photographs of Delhi
Emmanuel Lenain’s photographs of Delhi

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

Unfortunately, after returning from Kolkata, Raghu realized that many of the photographs he took of Satyajit Ray at home were underexposed and underdeveloped, and unusable at the time. But, thanks to digital technology, the same unused images were finally brought to life, and the same images were used to produce this book.

raghu rai
raghu rai

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

The pandemic may have put restrictions on Raghu Rai for some time, and he feels bad that he hasn’t taken many photos during this time, but his restless mind is already planning a book, which he says will be a compilation of some of the best photographers works. covering the pandemic.

We are already wishing for the same.

From HT Brunch, April 30, 2022

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