It was 1970 when renowned photographer Raghu Rai first met Mother Teresa; long before the world had heard about her humanitarian work. Among the first batches of pictures he took of her was the petite figure’s gentle hands clasping a child’s head and showering her blessings in one frame, and her frail figure walking down the stairs with the crucifix behind her and sunshine dancing at her feet in another. In a freewheeling chat at his studio in Mehrauli, as Rai shared insights into his latest exhibition at Ojas Art, “Picturing Time: The Greatest Photographs of Raghu Rai”, he said, “She was the toughest and the most difficult subject, yet loving and wonderful. She did not like photographers and writers walking around her and was not fond of publicity.”
Through “Picturing Time…”, Rai commemorates 50 years as a photo-journalist, where he has chosen 50 of his best creative works, one for each year in the field. Anubhav Nath, curatorial director of Ojas Art, says, “The aim of the show is to showcase the various genres that the master photographer has worked with. We have tried to include photographs from every era of Rai, like the black and white portraits he is famous for, his coloured frames and Delhi series.” The walls are dotted with the portraits of eminent figures, from Indira Gandhi and Ustad Bismillah Khan to Pandit Ravi Shankar and MS Subbulakshmi. There are also images of the ghats of Varanasi and Kolkata, rocks in Hampi, the vibrant rainbow hued photographs of the Pushkar mela in Rajasthan, and sadhus of the Mahakumbh Mela.
The captivating image of the country’s first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, staring at the camera with her piercing gaze while seated at a Congress session in 1966, stands out at the exhibit. Rai still remembers what it meant to be surrounded by her presence. “She was very powerful, extremely alert and aware. She knew who was sitting where and doing what, including us, the photographers. She was connected and sharp,” says Rai. There is also a relaxed, seated image of the Dalai Lama from 1975, where his outstretched arms rest behind his ears and the mountains visible through his hotel’s window form a pleasant backdrop.
Rai’s words pasted in large fonts across one of the gallery’s walls encapsulate the photographer’s vision. “If people can connect with my pictures and enjoy them, that is enough for me. It’s like you are walking down the street and you smile at someone and they smile back. There is nothing given and nothing taken. It is just like a little nudge, a recognition of humanity and life. That is what photography means to me.”
The exhibition is on at Ojas Art gallery till January 31. Contact: 26644145