My images should speak for themselves, not speeches: Raghu Rai


Ace photographer Raghu Rai insists that it is important that his work, and not words, make a statement. Stressing that documenting the truth is paramount, Rai says that he believes in gathering evidence of what is happening at any given moment.

“My religion and instinctive responsibility is to capture the truth of any given situation. Whether it goes against someone or in favour is not my concern. But if I add fiery words to it, I become an activist, which I am not. Being an activist and a photographer don’t really go together for me, as the energy tends to get divided. So, I would rather present an an image that speaks for itself rather than start making speeches,” Rai says.

Rai, a recipient of the Padma Shri and Academie des Beaux Arts Photography Award, who has more than 30 books to his credit in a career spanning more than half a century, has just finished one on the Himalayas and is working on another called “Thyself”.

“Look around, today the world is invaded by selfies, which is self love, self indulgence and at times stupidity. From top leaders to ordinary people, this obsession seldom leaves anyone untouched. I have lived with myself all my life, and have never been able to avoid this guy.

“Sometimes in shadows, other times in reflections. So I thought, in these times of selfies, let me show what a self portrait is all about. The book will be out in a couple of months. The important thing is that images will be images, not because I am there, but for the structure, the form and the expression they boast of,” he tells IANS.

Talk about the much milked term “democratisation of photography”, and he asserts, “What democratization? Everybody has a camera in the cellphone and doing something or the other with it. However, if you look closely, much of it is rubbish and repetitive. But then, you are nobody to take a decision or tell the people what is to be done.”

Rai, who was recently in Bhubaneswar to attend the JD Centre of Art’s 13th International Film Festival on Art & Artists where the film “Raghu Rai: An Unframed Portrait”, directed by his daughter Avani Rai, was screened, insists that the unpredictability of life and nature keeps him ever inquisitive.

“I am almost 80-years-old now. But nothing is stale. No matter where I am, I closely look at the people and the environment that envelops them, which is ever-changing. One has to invest in himself physically, emotionally and spiritually to reap dividends. When you do that, life keeps offering newer and richer experiences, every moment,” he says.

For someone who believes that it is never late to start pursuing an art form (“I started photography when I was 23”), Rai feels that he will always be a photographer, and not a teacher.

Talking about the Raghu Rai Centre for Photography in Gurugram, which is run by his son, “I go there for some senior classes and look at what young photographers are doing and help them realise what is the best for them. However, I don’t want to become a teacher. Moreover, our aim with the institute is not to make more money, make it bigger or enrol more people. What we strive for is excellence.”