By Siddhi Jain
New Delhi, Sep 14 (IANS) His hard-hitting, black-and-white photographs captured the hope of India in the making and as well as the despair of the life-changing events like the Bangladesh Liberation War, Operation Bluestar and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
On Friday, photojournalist Raghu Rai was given the very firt "Acad?mie des beaux-arts Photography Award - William Klein" for his contribution to photography. The award carries a sum of 120,000 euros and an exhibition retracing his career at the Palais de l'Institut de France in November.
Honoured with a Padma Shri in 1971, just seven years after he began life as a photojournalist with a national daily, Rai contributed trailblazing photo essays on social, political and cultural themes to the newspapers and magazines he worked with, including the leading names such as TIME, LIFE, Geo, The New York Times, The Sunday Times, Newsweek, The Independent and The New Yorker.
But, Rai feels news today is more of 'rang-biranga' infotainment. "The purpose of photography is to keep a record of its times. Photographs are the visual history of a place and time. This is a very important role of documentary photography or photojournalism, which cannot be replaced," he said.
"Journalists can write about stories and previous experiences at any given time, but photojournalists have to seize the intensity of an event for posterity, the moment it occurs," Rai told IANSlife in a telephonic interview.
"If text is the brickwork of a newspaper, a good photograph is its window to the wall. But now, photographs are a very small part of the infrastructure of most newspapers. Understandably then, they don't have the intensity and the kind of expressions that touch you deep down. They act like fillers to a piece of information. It's not the same thing," he explained.
Rai has served thrice on the jury of the World Press Photo and twice on the jury of UNESCO's International Photo Contest. And these global competitions, the septuagenarian believes, is where the bulk of quality photojournalism survives. "As a photojournalist, every story matters, every subject matters," he pointed out.
He advised budding photojournalists and photographers to "restrain from selfies that show too much self-love and not take all those good pictures that you've seen before." "Only then would you begin to see something different," he said.
About citizen photographers, armed with cameras and smartphones, he said "only dead fish flow in the mainstream". "It's mediocrity that flows in the mainstream, not creative people because they're eccentric, they're explorers. Look at Instagram, bombarded with colours and graphic junk. The social media platform can be very meaningfully used, if the work posted their is meaningful. But the way it is being used is awful," he added.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)