Ustad Bismillah Khan on the front cover.

As a photography enthusiast, I have been in awe of the ace photographer Raghu Rai and his  photographs. This year, completing 50 years of his love affair with the camera, he unveiled a collection of his favorite portraits.

Indira Gandhi on the back cover.

The blurb on this hardcover masterpiece collection reads:

You will not forget Raghu Rai’s people. It does not matter if they are famous or unknown, the master photographer’s images of them are so arresting that they stamp themselves immediately on the viewer’s gaze. What he is able to do is catch the essential truth of his subjects in a way that renders them unforgettable. He says, ‘When I take a person’s portrait, I am trying to capture the aura of that person, the person’s spirit in the picture. I am trying to get the truth of that person to emerge in the photograph.’

I have forever struggled with portrait photography and when I read about this book, I couldn’t resist picking it up. I wanted an up close view of the master’s original works. This book is a digital print album of Raghu Rai’s finest portraits of the rich and poor, well-known and the anonymous alike.

The saying, a picture is worth a thousand words stands true for this book that has words limited to the foreword by Raghu Rai and his portraits doing the rest of the talking.

The book, aptly titled ‘People’ has a portrait of Ustad Bismillah Khan on the front cover and Indira Gandhi on the back cover both of whom were captured when the subjects were not conscious of the camera. As the author states he aims to get the truth of the person to emerge in the photograph, every portrait is a testament of this belief.

The author has shared candid moments of capturing some of his portraits while professing that,

“I suppose my all-time favorite among the famous people I have shot is the Dalai Lama. I have been taking pictures of him for over forty years now. I have never met god but I have no hesitation in saying that Christ/Buddha/Guru Nanak must have been like Dalai Lama.”

Be it the fleeting moments of the lives of the common or the legendary, Raghu Rai’s portraits stand out in black and white, his preference for portrait photography. He believes that colors make for average portraits a against the grey tones, highlights and contrasts of black and white. The book comprises of up to 75% portraits in black and white with only a handful of the colored ones.

The strength of the expression in a person’s eyes or face with remarkable clarity has been the stand out feature for me of each of his portraits. Each picture tells a story that has been cleverly left up to the reader to unravel limiting the captions to very brief introduction.

In the times when the world is obsessed with selfies, Raghu Rai believes:

“Today, unfortunately, the age of the selfie has destroyed the art of portrait photography. These cell phones have wide-angle lens which distort perspective. In order to take a good portrait you have to use a lens that does not distort perspective. Selfies are fun, but as portraits they are just silly.”

Victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

Portraits of the singers while performing (like the front cover) make a powerful statement while the struggles of life shine bright in the pictures of the common people. I was particularly touched by the portrait of R.K. Laxman, the cartoonist best known for creating the ‘Common Man’. Another memorable portrait was of the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy where the hurt, rage and anguish in their hearts surfaces in the picture.

R.K.Laxman the cartoonist.

This is a book for everyone who loves photography and believes in its magical powers of immortalizing people, freezing moments to be cherished forever. I highly recommend this beautiful collection of portraits that speak volumes about the subjects, telling an untold story every time you look at the photographs.

About the Book: 

Title –  People: His Finest Portraits

Author – Raghu Rai

Publisher – Aleph Book Company

Genre – Photography

Pages – 184

Price – INR 999

ISBN – 978-93-83064-13-7

About the Author: 

In his half a century as a photographer, Raghu Rai has won many national and international awards and accolades including being nominated in 1971 by Henri Cartier Bresson to Magnum Photos. His solo exhibition has travelled to London, Paris, New York, Hamburg, Prague, Tokyo, Zurich and Sydney. His photo essays have appeared in Time, Life, GEO, the New York Times, the Sunday Times, Newsweek, The Independent and the New Yorker.

He received the Padma Shri in 1971. Raghu Rai currently lives and works in New Delhi.

Rating: 5/5

*The images from the book are a publisher and author copyright and have been used only for illustration purposes.

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