A few days back, I had the opportunity to get really close to the God of Indian photography, RAGHU RAI… talk to him, listen to his ideas on this art form and also attend a Nikonology session conducted by the Nikon Technical Team. It was an experience that was unbeatable. This blogger meet was called by Nikon and I must mention at the outset that they also had a ‘tweet-a-picture’ contest while we were listening to all the wonderful tips on picture-taking… and one of the pictures that I had clicked and tweeted that day was chosen by none other than the great man himself and… I’ll tell you later in this post what that prize was!
What did Raghu Rai have to say about the evolution from analogue to digital photography… and what does he think of photography itself? What are his secrets that he shared with us that day? Read on for all this and more…
‘Speed of the film and everything else has changed so drastically that I feel I am reborn with this new technology. Photography for me is not only my profession but this is my Dharma. Photography is like a prayer… and it takes me close to my God.
Photography is my life and is the life around me and is the whole world around me… and this is nothing but a part of gad. So I feel much closer to this kind of godliness when I am clicking pictures. Bhagwan toh nahin aane wale hain… na Christ, na Allah, na Ram… par unke darshan toh zaroor milne wale hain… toh unke darshan ke liye tasveer keechna becomes very precious. So for me, photography is my dharma. When someone asks me if I can meditate, I say NO… but I also tell them that when I take pictures, there are moments of fulfilment and all this is through photography… and that’s why it becomes very precious to me to remain a photographer.
Film was very cumbersome and very difficult… and every film had its own speed and limitations… but in digital technology you can change things like colour balance right away… ISO settings… and so many other vital aspects can be taken care of with speed… and look, even in this space where we are sitting and it is so dark, you can take near perfect photographs… thanks to digital technology.
Q. Photography is so accessible now… will this dilute the art-form?
This is what I call ‘churning… and churning must happen… on a larger scale too. A little while back we were discussing mobile cameras and you can be sitting with your friends or relatives someplace and you suddenly say: ‘Let me take a picture with my mobile phone’ and then you click and admit: ‘My God! This picture is so nice… why shouldn’t I now have a DSLR?’ So the process of exercising your mind in order to take better pictures begins right then… and that’s a very good thing. Mobile cameras help us move towards better photography. Therefore, churning must happen in order to process more and more possibilities…
Q. What is your thought process during street photography? What are you looking for and what goes on inside the mind of Raghu Rai?
The thought process has to be STOPPED. The mind has to be at ease otherwise this heavyweight champion sitting inside you keeps programming you for this and for that… actually creativity happens beyond that thought process. First of all it is a moment of first-hand experiencing something for yourself. You take a picture simultaneously and then later on you can tell yourself and show yourself your own experience. That moment comes alive before you… and you say: ‘Wow! This is what I have captured.’ So in any creative photography… whether it is landscapes or street photography or portraits… the magic of instinctive response is very precious and creativity lives beyond those planned ideas.
Q. Tell us about the photography gear that you use.
Of course I use my digital cameras… D800, D7200… and I have lots of equipment but I have come to a point where I use only two or three zoom lenses because each time I am shooting I decide the area of my assignment or subject and decide on the particular focal length which can capture the space that I have in mind… and I try to minimise the use of my equipment so that I am not wasting time in choosing my equipment or lens. But when I go on big shoots for a long time then I do carry a whole lot of equipment but while shooting, each day will have a limited and relevant set of equipment. I try to keep them to a minimum. The range of zoom lenses available, especially with Nikon that I have used all my life, is amazing.
And maybe with just one zoom lens you can cover a lot… a 28-300 zoom lens is good enough for wide angle, indoor pictures and you can also shoot wildlife with it. So you tend to have a lot of fun with digital technology.
Q. Is it important to diverse into all genres of photography? Why do you love street photography and portraits so much?
Street photography takes me closer to life itself you know and taking pictures of people is precious to me as I am one of them and in the process I discover myself and where I stand in this space called existence.
Any genre is good enough. You can fool around with multiple ones if you want to, but it is better to move and explore in one direction and when you think you have done enough you can try different themes, different subjects, and different kinds of photography… so a lot depends on how versatile and how grounded you are. It is not as simple to jump from here to there and feel that you can take good pictures in all situations and types. It takes a lifetime to really understand and achieve something meaningful.
This is one session that I wish each of us who has even the smallest interest in photography, must attend. These guys at Nikon keep having workshops and they can be attended by anyone who has a good camera and a healthy interest in photography. The session at this blogger meet was taken by their team of experts: Rohit Dhawan, Abhishek Singh, Ashwini Joshi, Gaurav Mishra, Vinay Kumar, Sumat Kuduvalli, Anindo Basu, Yusuf, and Amit.
Loved every moment of this session as we were taken from a historical perspective of photography itself to the way Nikon helped in shaping the past and the present of photography. The best part was that Nikonology, as they put it, was an experience… the story a journey with Nikon. We went on a rapid ride to explore the structure of a camera and the structure of good picture-taking… we explored the way various settings can affect the outcome, the way various types of cameras can give a different output, if correctly and judiciously used.
#ThroughTheLens & the metaphysics of photography
The hashtag for the meet was #ThroughTheLens and besides the pictures that I kept tweeting, I also did tweet the essence of photography in short twitter poems! Some of these short 140 character poems were linked to the picture that was tweeted.
I love to see the world fly high
A world that smiles without a sigh!
Silhouettes give a shot the thought
And makes a pic much more sought!
Unusual angles to aim to shoot
Always makes me happily hoot!
Pictures to simplify & set you free
Is more than just an aim for me!
Reflections to make u stop & think
And smile & wonder, or just blink!
Colours #ThroughTheLens to make
You smile & give life a break!
The web threads with the droplets fine
On macro shots I love to dine!
Social interactions in pics are true
What I say is nothing new!
Do cameras matter?
Does instinct matter?
So when you look
And be intense!
I love to search the past & shoot
This is heritage to the root!
Some games in pics will remain
So don’t treat such sights with disdain!
#ThroughTheLens I’ll see to find
The child in my wife’s mind!
For candid moments I will wait
One second here or there is late!
Forms of norms from here to there
See & shoot & then share!
Natural wonders for all to see
I’d click & share for free!
I’d love to show the good & bad
To complete the picture, my dear lad!
A nation and its joys
With all the jugadoo ploys!
The real and the unreal as one
I love to have creative fun!
Truth is what I’d love to sight
I’m sure it has great photo might!
So now I must insist that photography isn’t just an art-form, it is probably a catalyst too that managed to bring out the poet in me.
And finally, to reveal what I won that day… I won a warm hug from Raghu Rai and then he gifted me his book of photographs: ‘Delhi: Contrasts and Confluences’. This book is a photo-journey on Delhi that Raghu Rai shot and has a rather interesting introduction by William Dalrymple.
A few more pictures from the meet…
05 December 2013