Raghu Rai, a talk on creativity in Digi-life

Creativity in Digi-life
a talk by raghu rai
Organized by Photographic Society of Madras, Chennai

Clad in a all-black, he spoke about silencing the colors, his love with black and whites, his addiction towards digital cameras & technology and left the audience yearning for more.

raghu rai and sudanand menon

Raghu rai and Sudanand menon

The event started with the introduction of Photographic Society of Madras(PSM). After which Raghu Rai entered the auditorium to a standing ovation. The audience comprised of renowned photographers, members of PSM, students from journalism and vis comm. schools and quite a few members from Chennai Weekend Clickers (CWC).

Mr.Shankar, president of PSM, made a short dutiful introduction and gave the podium to Raghu Rai. Raghu Rai invited Sadanand Menon (from Asian College of Journalism). Sadanand obliged. Sadanad automatically took on the role of an interviewer and thus began a very spontaneous, conversational talk.

Following are my notes from the event (it is not verbatim):

How it all started for him

His dad had a government job and was reporting to a chief engineer. So Raghu’s dad always wanted him to become an engineer. And Raghu did become and engineer. He worked for the government for some years and got bored of the 9 to 5 job. He quit and went to stay with his brother Paul, who was a photographer at that time. He went along with his brother for an assignment and that is where he got his first shot – of the famous Baby Donkey. That picture got published in London Times, half page!

His love for digital photography and technology

Raghu started by admitting his love for the new technology and his addiction with the digital camera. He was on an assignment and had taken his digital and film camera with him. Before shooting for the assignment, he wanted to warm up and started shooting with his digital camera with no intention of getting any usable shots. But that was the moment that changed everything. That was when he absolutely fell in love with the digital camera and power of technology. He went on to say how blinded he was with the film camera, as one might not know how the composition or the photo would turn out to be, till the time one enters the dark room and develops the prints. Some artists believe that is a critical element that a creator goes through, but he thought that to be blinding. With a digital camera, one could color-correct a photo in the field and find out if the particular shot is good enough.

Printing technology is another of his favourite technological developments in the area of photography. In the olden days he used to develop his own prints and most of the times he would over/under-expose a photo and he would have to re-print several times to get the right output and he would have to the same elaborate process again to get another print. “But nowadays, with the printing technology, it is so easy to color-correct and clicking on ‘print’ delivers the required output. You save the file and click on ‘print’ again to get another copy.”

Creativity in photography

“In creativity, brightest minds have no place… You have to think from the heart” – Raghu Rai

He narrated a story…
He was interacting with school students about creativity in photography, when one student raised his hand and said “you are talking about creativity, can you tell us what exactly should we do to be creative… what are the rules?” and Raghu replied “Assume I toss all of you in the air and there are two rules to be followed when you land back on the ground –
1. Don’t step on other’s footsteps. Do something different. Don’t follow anybody’s footsteps
2. Don’t step where you have already stepped before.”

He said the same thing to the audience – be creative, think different. Don’t shoot the same way something has already been shot before.

‘Point of Reference'(PoR) photos

For ealier photographers the PoR were the painters before them, one could see that in the sort of photographs that were produced – landscapes, portraits etc. The photographers who came after that took last-generation photographers’ photos as PoR.

“The reference-points pictures should be shot and taken off one’s system. But don’t follow that always, create you own points”- Raghu Rai

Democratization of Photography

True, nowadays everyone has the facility to get a camera and shoot, the only way one can differentiate from this is “self-search”. One needs to push the limits and ask for more. Some photographers settle for little, they receive little and some ask for more and they receive more.

“That is the divine gift, you ask and God will bless you with it”

Which photo should one select?

He wanted to do a book on photos of Indira Gandhi and as he was taking lot of photos, three times everyday, he had problems selecting the right ones out of the collection. So he made a rule.
A photo should stand the test of time.
Meaning, even if someone looks at a photo after decades, without knowing the importance of a person/subject, the viewer should still be able to understand the importance (or evoke the needed emotion) of the photo.
Black & White vs Color photos

Every color evokes certain emotions. It is very hard to get great image in color from daily life, because each color has emotions and since a daily life photo might have so many distracting colors, which will distract viewers from the emotions that you a photographer wishes to convey. If you want to show only the emotion of the subject – raging clouds, hardworking people etc. you need to silence the colors – that is when B&W comes handy.

Raghu made it clear he is not a big fan of archival photography which do not capture the expression and energy.

Good photos vs bad photos

There was a question during the Q&A session, which was “You say that archival photos are not good photos, but for the person who took that photograph, it might be of emotional attachment, how then can you say that a archived photo is not good?”

Raghu replied saying that he never said that all archival photos are bad, some of them capture the energy and experience – those are good. And if an archival photo brings back memories and emotions to the one who took it, it is a good photo for that particular person. But if the photo stands the test of time and everyone is able to relate to the experience and emotion in that photo, then it is a good photo to all!

About using technology to process/touch photos

It is absolutely OK to touch/process a photo, there is nothing wrong with it. One should use the technology for ones advantage. If someone says we should see grains and there should be noise, he says it is “nostalgic nonsense”.
He went on to display many photos from his works and told the story and experience behind each of them. Perhaps, I will write about that later in another post.

It is an amazing learning experience for upcoming photographers to be able to interact with someone like Raghu Rai. I wish to thank PSM for organizing such a wonderful event.


Raghu Rai and Shankar (president of PSM)

Raghu Rai and Shankar (president of PSM)

Some of the quotable quotes from Raghu Rai during this event:

“Silence the colors”

“The reference-points pictures should be shot and taken off one’s system. But don’t follow that always, create you own points”

“Photography is about capturing experience and energy”

“Buddha, they say, waited and he got enlightenment… And I’ve had my moments of waiting”

“every inch of space and every element in a frame matters”

“In creativity, brightest minds have no place… You have to think from heart”



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