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Raghu Rai (born 1942) is an Indian photographer and photojournalist. He was a protégé of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who appointed Rai, then a young photojournalist, to Magnum Photos in 1977. Cartier-Bresson co-founded Magnum Photos.
Rai became a photographer in 1965, and a year later joined the staff of The Statesman, a New Delhi publication. In 1976, he left the paper and became a freelance photographer. From 1982 until 1992, Rai was the director of photography for India Today. He has served on the jury for World Press Photo from 1990 to 1997. He is known for his books, Raghu Rai’s India: Reflections in Colour and Reflections in Black and White.
Rai started learning photography in 1962 under his elder brother Sharampal Chowdhry, better known as S Paul who is an award-winning photographer, and in 1965 joined “The Statesman” newspaper as its chief photographer. Rai left “The Statesman” in 1976 to work as picture editor for “Sunday,” a weekly news magazine published in Calcutta. Impressed by an exhibit of his work in Paris in 1971, Henri Cartier-Bresson nominated Rai to join Magnum Photos in 1977.
Rai left “Sunday” in 1980 and worked as Picture Editor/Visualizer/Photographer of “India Today” during its formative years. From 1982 to 1991, he worked on special issues and designs, contributing picture essays on social, political and cultural themes.
Rai has specialised in extensive coverage of India. He has produced more than 18 books, including Raghu Rai’s Delhi, The Sikhs, Calcutta, Khajuraho, Taj Mahal, Tibet in Exile, India, and Mother Teresa. His photo essays have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including Time, Life, GEO, The New York Times, Sunday Times, Newsweek, The Independent, and the New Yorker.
For Greenpeace, he has completed an in-depth documentary project on the chemical disaster at Bhopal in 1984, which he covered as a journalist with India Today in 1984, and on its ongoing effects on the lives of gas victims. This work resulted in a book, Exposure: A Corporate Crime and three exhibitions that toured Europe, America, India and southeast Asia after 2004, the 20th anniversary of the disaster. Rai wanted the exhibition to support the many survivors through creating greater awareness, both about the tragedy, and about the victims – many who are still uncompensated – who continue to live in the contaminated environment around Bhopal.
In 2003, while on an assignment for Geo Magazine in Bombay City, he switched to using a digital Nikon D100 camera “and from that moment to today, I haven’t been able to go back to using film.”
He has served three times on the jury of the World Press Photo and twice on the jury of UNESCO’s International Photo Contest.
- Padmashree in 1972
- Photographer of the Year from USA (1992)
- 2014 In Light of India: Photography by Raghu Rai, Hong Kong International Photo Festival, Hong Kong
- 2013 Trees (Black and white), New Delhi
- 2012 My India – FotoFreo, Australia
- 2007 Les Rencontres d’Arles festival, France
- 2005 India – Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini, Rome, Italy
- 2005 Bhopal 1984–2004 – Melkweg Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- 2004 Exposure – Drik Gallery, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Leica Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic
- 2003 Exposure: Portrait of a Corporate Crime – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
- 2003 Bhopal – Sala Consiliare, Venice, Italy; Photographic Gallery, Helsinki, Finland
- 2002 Volkart Foundation, Winterthur, Switzerland
- 2002 Raghu Rai’s India – A Retrospective – Photofusion, London, UK
- 1997 Retrospective – National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India.
- Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
- 2014 Vijayanagara Empire: Ruins to Resurrection, Niyogi Books. ISBN 978-93-83098-24-8
- 2014 The Tale of Two: An Outgoing and an Incoming Prime Minister
- 2013 Trees, PHOTOINK, India http://www.photoink.net/artist/artistdetail/98/133
- 2013 Bangladesh: The Price of Freedom, Niyogi Books. ISBN 978-93-81523-69-8
- 2011 The Indians: Portraits From My Album, Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-670-08469-2.
- 2010 India’s Great Masters: A Photographic Journey into the Heart of Classical Music
- 2008 Raghu Rai’s India: Reflections in Colour, Haus Books. ISBN 9781905791965
- 2005 Mother Teresa: A Life of Dedication, Harry N. Abrams, USA. ISBN 9780810958753
- 2005 Romance of India, Timeless Books, India
- 2004 Indira Gandhi: A Living Legacy, Timeless Books, India
- 2004 Exposure: Portrait Of A Corporate Crime, Greenpeace, Netherlands
- 2003/04 Saint Mother: A Life Dedicated, Timeless Books, India;Mère Teresa), La Martinière, France
- 2002 Bhopal Gas Tragedy (with Suroopa Mukherjee), Tulika Publishers, India
- 2001 Raghu Rai’s India – A Retrospective, Asahi Shimbun, Japan
- 2000 Lakshadweep, UT of Lakshadweep, India
- 2000 Raghu Rai… in his Own Words, Roli Books, India
- 1998 Man, Metal and Steel, Steel Authority of India, Ltd., India
- 1997 My Land and Its People, Vadehra Gallery, India
- 1996 Faith and Compassion: The Life and Work or Mother Teresa, Element Books, USA. ISBN 9781852309121
- 1996/01 Dreams of India, Times Editions, Singapore/Greenwich, UK ISBN 9789812046062
- 1994 Raghu Rai’s Delhi, Indus/Harper Collins, India
- 1991 Khajuraho, Time Books International, India
- 1990/91 Tibet in Esilio, Mondadori, Italy; (Tibet in Exile), Chronicle Books, USA
- 1990 Delhi and Agra (with Lai Kwok Kin and Nitin Rai), Hunter Publications, Inc., USA
- 1989 Calcutta, Time Books International, India
- 1988 Dreams of India, Time Books International, Singapore; (L’Inde), Arthaud, France
- 1986/87 Taj Mahal, Times Editions, Singapore; Robert Laffont, France; Rizzoli Publications, USA
- 1985 Indira Gandhi (with Pupul Jayakar), Lustre Press, India
- 1984 The Sikhs, Lustre Press, India
- 1983 Delhi: A Portrait, Delhi Tourist Development Corporation/Oxford University Press, India/UK
- 1974 A Day in the life of Indira Gandhi, Nachiketa Publications, India
“I feel that to be successful in any profession, you need to be passionate and eager to experiment. If photography is your interest, traveling will help you a great deal, as you would get to experiment and learn.”
“When I go to a situation, I see something interesting, and I see the enormity and the size of it, and the complexity of it, and I say “Yes God, you’ve shown me this but it’s not enough for me.” So he says “Alright.” Then I keep walking, then he shows me something more complex and bigger. I say “Yes God, It’s nice. But it’s still not enough for me.” So I go on and on and I don’t accept it, and then he knows this child of his is very demanding and restless. And then he opens up and shows me something I have never experienced before. Then I take a picture and say “Thank you God.”