Yesterday, I went to a exhibition of photographs by Raghu Rai at National Gallery of Modern Art, with few of my friends from college. My friends here were photographers themselves, but for me it was a novel experience. I have been to quite a few exhibitions of painting, but my exposure to good photographs was limited to those of Shibnath Bose – slide shows after treks and expeditions. Obviously, then, the prerequisites of a good shot for me were strong lines, insightful perspective, a beautiful out-of-the-world scene to draw the moment from, and of course a mélange of colours that only nature can offer.
But yesterday I received a jolt, albeit a pleasant one. Here mostly the frames were in black and whites, and it was mostly the India I see around me, and seldom stop to notice. However, the perspective and lines in the photo, what they call the composition, was impeccable, Da Vinci-like. At times, he used reflection of light to great use: be it on the windshield of a car, or window panes. It was tough to believe that most of these were taken way before the digital camera came in, such was the exactness of the angles. This is expected of any good photographer, to earn them their bread and butter, I suppose.
The brilliance, according to me, lied elsewhere. The photographs combined the energy and chaos of India, with a slice of time and history. Be it wrestlers in Babughat, Camel merchants of Pushkar, or cart-pushers of Delhi , it made for great re-reading sessions like poetry of Eliot and essays of Pamuk. The significant others, employed the slow exposure technique which rendered a meditative quality in the monochromes. Ustad Zakir Hussain on tabla, Pt. Gandharva with sitars flanking him, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Indira Ghandhi, Mother Teresa, a non descript tribal woman from Tripura, took over the white walls of the gallery like zeppelins falling from a cloudless sky. It transcended the moment it captured and became a reality by itself. Hats off!