Filmmaker Satyajit Ray captured on camera on the sets of Bengali film Ghare Baire is among a slew of portraits assembled by ace photographer Raghu Rai in his new book aptly titled ‘People’.
Ray’s photograph in black and white considered to be a masterpiece has a story behind it, reveals Rai. “He lay down on the same bed, smoking his pipe, on which his heroine was sitting and I took some pictures from the front. Then I moved towards the other side from where you could only see his back and I realized that the lighting was very dramatic. You could see the adjoining room through the door and there were spectacular shadows falling on the wall,” says the photographer.
The images in the book, published by Aleph, reveals moments and people in both candid and staged and describe Rai’s inexplicable sense to capture the truth of the person through his lens.
Apart from portraits of film personalities and celebrities captured in shining black and white in their most candid expressions, the book also contains a compilation of Rai’s best photographs of people. The pictures, he says, were taken for specific magazines or newspaper assignments and as Rai says have happened as “a result of spontaneous magic.” “When I take a person’s portrait, I am trying to capture the aura of that person. I am trying to get the truth of that person to emerge in the photographs,” he says. “My portraits of musicians in the book looked strong because they all were a candid study of them. MS Subbulakshmi’s portrait was taken when she was performing.
Bismillah Khan’s portrait was taken when he was in jugalbandi with Vilayat Khan,” Rai writes. The photographer who has won many international as well as national accolades including the Padma Shri, describes images of people in black and white vividly and refers to shoot pictures in the same shades.
“I prefer to take portraits in black and white. Colour makes for very average portraits. In black and white, the grey tones, highlights and contrasts that you are able to create enable you to bring out the strength of the expression in a person’s eyes or face,” he writes. Rai describes his interest to click ordinary people and mentions some of the public figures which he enjoyed photographing.
“I liked taking pictures of Indira Gandhi early on in her career, later as a result of growing security concerns; she became a bit distant and photographing her wasn’t as much fun,” he says.“I suppose my all time favorite among people I have shot is Dalai Lama. I have never met God but I have no hesitation in saying that Christ/Buddha/Nanak must have been like Dalai Lama,” Rai writes while describing his passion to shoot the Dalai Lama. Rai does not detest the new “selfie” phenomenon, but describes it as only mere “fun”. “Today, unfortunately, the age of the selfie has destroyed the art of portrait photography,” he writes.
“These cell phones have wide angle lens which distort perspective. In order to take a good portrait you have to use a lens that does not distort perspective. Selfies are fun, but as portraits they are just silly.”
The images in the book stamp themselves immediately on the viewer’s gaze. Rai wraps up his compilation of portraits asking the viewer to look for the essence of whichever person has been photographed, rich or poor, famous or anonymous.