Raghu Rai's India, through the lens of a phone

Raghu Rai's India, through the lens of a phone

In the 50th year of his illustrious career, veteran photographer Raghu Rai ditched his trusty professional camera for a smartphone and set off across the country, doing what he does best: capturing glimpses of life, people and elusive moments.

The results are stunning; a set of photographs marked by extraordinary detail and clarity. Shot all over India over a period of 21 days in August this year, these photographs have been compiled into the ace shutterbug's latest book "India through the eyes of Raghu Rai".

From a panorama of jet-black clouds gathering over a beach in Mahabalipuram, to a solitary scooter whizzing past ferns and junipers on a lonely Himalayan road, the photographs take a new meaning in the master shutterbug's hands, turning ubiquitous images into moments charged with life, energy and vitality.

For Rai, the ease offered by a device stripped away of most of the complex features and functions found in a professional camera and the desire to keep experimenting were what drew him to the project.

"It was the freedom and the ease which I got from this. I simply kept playing with it like a toy. For me at this point in my life I don't want to behave like a serious guy. I want to play around with tools and things. This project was a fascinating affair with no responsibilities and no liabilities," he told PTI on the sidelines of his book's launch here late last evening.

But then for someone who has never used a phone camera for professional purposes, it would normally be expected that the shift would be somewhat jarring because of the limitations and challenges thrown up by a new device.

Rai though, has a different take on it.

"If you learn to minimise your needs, then the more you are acutely aware of what you need to do...to simplify those extra gadgets and weights and be free of it. Thanks to digital technology you don't have to do anything (because of the built in features). It gives you all the freedom to capture the variety and spirit," he says.

Rai says he does not he had no ideas fixed in his mind when he goes about clicking pictures.
"I don't decide what to shoot. Whatever captures me in that moment, I capture. Because that would be anti-creativity for me." 

For the most part, it is impossible to tell that the photos have been taken using a smartphone; such is the level of clarity and detail which Rai extricates out of his shots.

"The professional cameras we use have got hundreds of features. Professionals don't need so many. With that the camera becomes expensive, fragile. I myself use only 6-7 and don't even know about the rest. Here was a cell phone with the few basic features I basically need," he says.

For Rai, more important than the device is the person behind it- "Any machine can take photos. But you need a sensitive heart to be attached to it which cannot be replicated by any technology."

In a world of rapidly changing technologies, Rai is an advocate of embracing change wholeheartedly.

"In 150 years of photography so much has been done. And then there is this new technology. So we have to find new ways of doing things. New visions, new expressions, new energies that could be captured differently," he says.

Despite this eagerness to adapt to the new, Rai still remains a purist at heart. Clearly not amused by "frivolous" trends like the all-pervasive selfie or clicking pictures of one's food and feet, Rai says that images like these do not manage to capture the essence of what photography stands for.

The democratisation of photography which the phone camera has brought about also comes a lot of 'khichdi', he says with a laugh.

"There will be good things happening, bad things happening. But the churning must go on" says the award winning photographer who used a Gionee E8 phone to capture the pictures.

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