“They say a good photograph is worth a thousand words. But a thousand words is a lot of noise. How about some silence…Stories have been told and re-told in different ways through words and photos, but silence happens rarely.” These are the words of the man himself-Raghu Rai, perhaps the most popular photographer of modern India. Two of his exhibitions are currently on view side by side in Calcutta; one at ICCR showcases some of his most touching renditions of Mother Teresa from blessedly close quarters, while the other, next doors at Harrington, displays his vision of Calcutta over the last four decades.
Some of these images are printed in warm colours, and others in stark duotones, but together they somehow manage to capture the whole gamut of visual archetypes that have come to represent Calcutta in the popular imaginary. Calcutta embroiled deep in its intellectual and political moorings; Calcutta resplendent in the idyllic quaintness of its old north quarter; Calcutta on the banks of the Hooghly-steady and “silent”; Calcutta with its quirky culture of abandoned clay idols-idols that rest at ease in complete “silence” alongside the lazy tired bodies of man and beast side by side. In a way, it is difficult to say anything new about a Ragu Rai show. No matter how recent the pictures or how contemporary the themes (malls for instance), they continue to be underlined by Raghu’s signature style. Perhaps because of its uncomplicated visual reach, however, that style has been internalized by many, and as a rather paradoxical result, become in some ways not quite so inimitable anymore. Fundamentally, however, visual quotations only highlight the artist’s appeal and renown, making Raghu Rai the legend he is today.
Nevertheless, it could well be the fault of over-exposure that these two exhibitions did not excite me terrifically, as frame after frame of seen-this know-that pictures failed to hold my attention for very long. Even at the risk of sounding audacious, one hopes the man would re-invent himself and have us licking out of his hands. Or camera!
-- Paroma Maiti