Raghu Rai (1942) a qualified civil engineer, began his career as a photographer at the age of 23 in 1965. In the early years of his career he was the chief photographer at The Statesman (1966 to 1976), and later the Picture Editor of Sunday magazine (1977 to 1980).
Soon after completing the Thomson fellowship in England, he worked in The Times, London for four weeks within this short time span, each week three half pages picture essays of his work were published with a byline. Recognizing his creative potential, Mr. Norman Hall, the illustrious editor of The Times offered him a job, but Raghu preferred to return to his own country to continue his creative journey in the lanes and by lanes of his motherland.
In 1971, impressed by his work in an exhibition at Gallery Delpire, Paris, the legendary photographer Henri Cartier Bresson nominated Raghu Rai to Magnum Photos, the world’s most prestigious photographer’s cooperative. Raghu continues to be part of this organization till date. Around the same time he was awarded the ‘Padmashree’ ( 1972), for the body of work he produced on the Bangladesh war, its impact on people and finally, the surrender.
Rai became the Picture Editor - Visualiser – Photographer of India Today, India’s leading news magazine in its formative years. He worked on special issues and designs, contributing trail blazing picture essays on social, political and cultural themes (1982 to 1991). His series on Great Masters of Indian Classical Music, film maker Satyajit Ray, Mother Teresa, had become talking point of the magazine.
In 1992 he was awarded “Photographer of the Year” in United States for the story “Human Management of Wildlife in India” published in National Geographic. In 2009 he was conferred Officere des Arts et des Lettres by Government of France.
Photo essays by him have appeared in world’s leading magazines and newspapers - Time, Life, GEO, Le Figaro, Le Monde, Die Welt, The New York Times, Sunday, The Times-London, Newsweek, Vogue, GQ, D magazine, Marie Claire, The Independent and New Yorker. He has been an adjudicator for World Press Photo Contest, Amsterdam and UNESCO’s International Photo Contest for many times.
The photo documentation of 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy by him, and the continuing effects of the gas on the lives of the victims under a special assignment from Greenpeace International was compiled into a book. 3 sets of this work travelled as exhibitions in Europe, America, Australia, India and South East Asia from 2002 to 2005. This created greater awareness about the tragedy which brought relief to the survivors.
Raghu Rai tirelessly continued to photograph India through the 20th century and now into the 21st. His monumental body of work of myriad themes is certainly a slice of India’s modern history because of which he has come to be known as the father of photo journalism in India. Rai’s retrospective have been held in major cities around the world and has produced more than 50 picture books on different themes and aspects of India. Some of the titles are as follow:
Indira Gandhi (1971, 1985, 2004 );
Mother Teresa – Faith & Compassion (1971, 1996, 2004);
Bihar Shows The Way (1977);
The Sikhs (1984, 2002),
Delhi (1971, 1985, 1992, 2008 );
Romance of India (1985);
Taj Mahal, (1986, 2012);
Calcutta (1989, 2008, 2013),
Tibet in Exile (1991, 2009, 2012),
My Land and it’s People (1995);
Men Metal and Steel (1998);
Madhya Pradesh (2000);
Raghu Rai’s India: Reelections in BW (2007)
Raghu Rai’s India: Reelections in Color (2008
India’s Great Masters – a Photographic journey into the heart of classical music – 2010;
Bombay–Mumbai–where dreams don’t die–2010;
The Indians–150 years of portraiture in India – 2010;
Varanasi - Portrait of a Civilization – 2010;
Bangladesh – The Price of Freedom – 2012;
Trees BW – 2013;
Trees Color– 2014
Vijaynagara – Ruins to Resurrection-2014,
Longing to Belong- Refugees in India-2015
India Through the Eyes of Raghu Rai-2015
Picturing Time – 2016.
People- Raghu Rai’s Finest Portraits– 2017
Saint Teresa of Calcutta – 2017
His Holiness The Dalai Lama-God in Exile : 2018
Besides winning many national and international awards, Rai has exhibited his works around the world. Some of the major exhibitions include:
Retrospective at Museo de Capitolini-Rome-2005;
Retrospective of his work at Arles Photography Festival – 2007;
Asiatica Film Mediale, Rome – 2008;
A Retrospective – National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi – 2008 and at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai-2008;
A Retrospective at Aicon Gallery, London 2010
Women Changing India - Saachi gallery, London 2011
Exhibitions of his work were held in
Gallery Delpire, Paris – 1971;
Nikon Gallery, Tokyo – 1972;
Gallery Tsurumoto - 1992;
A Retrospective at Bunkamura Museum, Tokyo - 2001; Kendamy Museum – Italy, 2002;
A Retrospective at Photofusion, London, UK – 2002;
Volkart Foundation, Winterthur, Switzerland - 2002;
Sala Consiliare, Venice, Italy – 2003;
The Photographic Gallery, Helsinki, Finland – 2003;
Drik Gallery, Dhaka, Bangladesh – 2004;
Museo di Storia Naturale - Milan;
Gallery Caolmine - Switzerland;
Centro Cultural Recoleta - Argentina;
Centro Universitario Belas Artes - Sao Paulo;
Leica Gallery - Prague, 2004;
Melkweg Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands – 2005;
Art Car Museum - Texas (Houston);
Fait et Cause Gallery – Paris;
Earthscapes series, Singapore – 2007;
Just by the Way – Clouds, Rocks and Nudes, India – 2007; Master Musicians of India – Singapore – 2007;
Raghu Rai’s India – Pathshala, Drik, Bangladesh 2009; Master Musicians of India – Lalit Kala Academy – Delhi 2010;
Mother Teresa, A life Dedicated – Visual Art Gallery, Delhi and Kolkata 2010;
India – Mexico – The Parallel Wings – Instituto of Cervantes, New Delhi – 2010;
Calcutta –Kolkata, Harrington Street Arts Center, Calcutta, 2010;
Format Festival Jan 2011;
Raghu Rai’s India, A Retrospective at Foto Freo Festival, Australia, 2011;
India – A touring exhibition in Brazil, 2012;
Price of Freedom, Bangladesh – Bengal Museum of Art, Dhaka, 2012;
Outside the Margins – Photo exhibition for Save The Children, New Delhi - 2012;
TREES at PhotoInk, Delhi 2013;
Longing to Belong – Refugees in India, UNHCR - New Delhi, 2014;
In Light of India – A Retrospective, Hong Kong International Photographic and Cultural Society, Aug/Sept 2014.
Raghu Rai lives in New Delhi with his family and continues to be an associate of Magnum Photos.