Category Archives: Documentaries

Raghu Rai – 30 minutes with the genius.

Sitting all alone in a maroon suede chair, a feet away from an oak dining table, he picked up his mug of brew and took a sip from it. The cold air from the air-conditioning vent blew over his balding head. The fried samosa and cottage cheese which was kept on his table was becoming cold. His muffler and black waistcoat probably kept him warm. Attentively, he was scanning his environs. Outside the glass window, about 10 feet away, the dark monsoon clouds loomed large, threatening to burst and flood the streets which were about 16 floors below. Below the clouds, a 270 degree panoramic view of Bangalore city was visible. Tall glass buildings and lush green trees formed a homogeneous mix of vibrant colors and gave the perfect bird’s eye view of the garden city of India.

I went up to his table and asked if I could join him for some time. With an enthusiastic “Yes!”, almost bordering relief from seeming boredom, he gestured me to join his table. I sat down.

It took a couple of moments to realize that I was sitting next to Raghu Rai, the best Photojournalist India has seen. He has the distinction of being the only Indian photographer to be a member of Magnum collective. He is a Padma Shri awardee((the fourth highest civilian award in the Republic of India, after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan). His work has been published in almost every publication/journal/newspaper worldwide. A civil engineer by education, he became a photographer by accident. Even his first picture, that of a wild donkey, received critical acclaim! His most noteworthy work was on Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Bhopal gas tragedy and Kargil war. He has numerous books( 25+) to his credit. His other work included pieces on Agra, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Tibet, Khajuraho etc.

ImageNikon India had organized an event (Nikon-Through The Lens) for which I was invited. I remember asking the Nikon team the agenda for the evening. When they said Raghu Rai will be there to give a talk, I was delighted! The talk was short and hardly lasted 15 mins. I wanted to hear more from him. I had many questions. Now was the time to ask!

In his talk, he mentioned about how he had been a user of nikon film cameras and with the advent of digital, he had to transition to digital cameras. He mentioned that film grain was the spice of the pictures from the yesteryears and that people despised grainy pictures when digital technologies made an appearance and how people are beginning to like grainy pictures all over again. He also mentioned that black and white photography was what he grew up on and it had taught him more about composition and photographic elements than color which came later. He chided the current day photographers and mentioned it was too easy to take a well exposed picture these days. The learning curve is non-existent he exclaimed! He also said that people are getting carried away by the glittery, “colorful” pictures. “All pictures look the same these days. No one wants to differentiate their work from others”. In his closing remarks, he implored the audience to immerse in the craft to get better at it.

Raghu Rai addressing the gathering

Raghu Rai addressing the gathering

Back at the table, after having heard his talk earlier and having heard other talks by the technical team of Nikon, I was ready for some discussion and a few questions with Mr. Raghu Rai.

My first question was: Why is there only 1 Magnum Photographer from India? What gives?

[Note that the responses below are not verbatim answers, but 90 percent of what he said.]

Mr. Rai: The photojournalist’s world is changing. People are not coming up with photo-essays like they used to. There is no revolutionary photojournalism happening. Not many are working on elaborate projects. Anyone with a mobile phone camera can get you pictures which can be printed in a newspaper or magazine.

Me: True, I’ve heard most media houses and newspapers don’t have full time photographers and are working on a freelancer model. For E.g, Chicago time laid of it’s entire full-time photojournalist staff which included a pulitzer prize winner.

Mr. Rai: …which is why I work on my own and still continue shooting to this day. *Points at his camera on the desk*. I still carry my camera everywhere I go. *Points outside the glass window* Btw, I was shooting around the building earlier today and this just not feel like the India I know. (We were in UB City, a plush mall and he was alluding to the extravagant high rises. His work has taken him to the heart of India and I agree with him here.)  Photojournalism is dying a slow death.

Me: Which project of your’s was your personal best?

Mr Rai: I can’t really say. All my projects are very endearing!

Me: *Nodding in agreement* Indeed, I have been following your work and have chanced upon a few of your books and I must say they are all great. (I expected this answer because it is very tough for an artist to favor one project over another!)

Me: Raghu ji, how do you chose your projects? How do they happen? How do you ideate and execute them? Do you take on a project and work on it exclusively and move onto the next?

Mr Rai: I never have just 1 project on hand. I work in parallel! I always have 2 or 3 projects at any given time. Some projects have lasted a few days, a few months and some a few years! Besides, I am always shooting, so every project is ongoing!

Me: Any project that you are working on right now?

Mr Rai: (*non-commital* 🙂 )Well….yeah…let’s see how it goes. (Mr Rai, I’m sure it’s going to be par excellence as usual!)

Mr Rai: ….But let me tell you about something that I am really interested in. I would like a double censor camera. I could do wonders with such a camera. You know, in which there are two sensors adjacent to each other which gives you a wide frame in a single shot. I hate and cannot use stitching in my work since they scene changes very fast.

Me: Wouldn’t we need a new line of lenses for it to avoid vignetting and distortion?.

Mr Rai: No, the sensor size can be reduced slightly to accommodate the extra width.

Me: Nikon must surely be working with you on this? (@Canon, @Nikon, @Sony, @Pentax, @Olympus, are you listening?)

Mr Rai: Yeah, sort of.

Me: Would taking a large MP camera and cropping help?

Mr Rai: It’s too cumbersome! I would prefer if straight out of the camera.

The brews and grub get replenished and we continue our chat.

Me: I know you got into photography by accident, but what made you continue it? When you started off, it wasn’t a very popular profession.

Mr Rai: Sometimes, you just need to forget about everything and do what you feel like. It was unknown, but I didn’t care! (Touche’, Mr Rai!)

Me: What was it to work with Henri-Cartier-Bresson?

Mr Rai: Great experience!

Just when I was about to get into his work on Bhopal Gas tragedy, about Mother Teresa, and many other points, he was invited on stage to give out the awards. Both of us finished our brews, clicked a couple of photographs and I thanked him for the opportunity.

He had chosen a picture for an award some time earlier. It was displayed and it was a shot of clouds against a moonlit sky. While presenting the award, he mentioned why he picked it as opposed to others. “It’s different from the others”, he said. “It’s not the glittering picture that we see so often these days”.

Raghu ji, wishing you the very best! I went back and saw each and every one of the 2323 of your pictures which are on the Magnum website.

You can see his pictures HERE.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy - Picture by Raghu Rai

Bhopal Gas Tragedy – Picture by Raghu Rai

Thanks Nikon for this wonderful event and for giving me the opportunity to chat with Mr. Raghu Rai himself!

What would you have asked Mr Raghu Rai if you had 30 minutes with him? Did I do justice? Leave your responses in the comments!

Related post: https://abhinavrm.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/one-reason-why-street-photographers-should-start-with-bw/

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Monsoon Roadtrip

The onset of Monsoon during June is an ideal time to witness the transition from dry and brown to green and fresh. The entire Indian sub-continent undergoes a transformation within a few weeks. What better way of witnessing it than driving through it all.

Route: Bangalore – Wayanad – Kannur – Marvanthe – Karwar – Hubli – Bangalore
Distance : ~2000km
Days: 5
States: Karnataka , Kerala

This is the first time I was shooting video as opposed to clicking pictures like I mostly do. In a way, this is my first experiment with video.

Music: N’to – Trauma (Worakls Remix)

Monsoon Roadtrip

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Bitcoins And Why You Should Watch This Video First

The world has been swept by a new currency- Bitcoin. It is a very interesting concept which has seen increased acceptance globally due to lack of trust in current currency systems and government policies, especially in Europe. 

 

But before you start exploring the nuances of the bitcoin currency, here is a must watch documentary on the very concept of money.. What is the note or coin that you hold in your hand? What does it mean? How inflation and deflation works? It is answered very effectively in this video. 

 

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The Day I Spotted 4 Tigers In The Wild – Nagarhole Diaries

Spotting a tiger in the wild in India is quite challenging. Seriously.

Tigers need space. Infact, this animal on top of the food chain needs lots of it. And space(habitat) is really hard to come by thanks to widespread deforestation and forest encroachment.

There has been an impetus for protecting tiger population and conserving their habitat. Project Tiger, which was started in India in 1973, gave an estimate of 1411 tigers in the 2008 census and subsequently estimated an increase in population to 1600+ in 2010. I seriously think that this is a gross overestimation. I feel there are far fewer than 1600.

Wait a minute, this is an optimistic post! This post is about having seen them and having some faith restored.  I can now proclaim to have seen at least 4 of them in the wild. This is by no means a trivial event for me. In fact seeing 4 of them on 1 day after having visited numerous national parks almost 10-11 times to get a glimpse. This day was a red-letter-day.

After having set off in a friend’s brand new car, we reached Nagarhole and started spotting the usual fauna. We were destined for Kabini, but there was some confusion with the bookings(cough.cough.. bullet bala) and we settled for Nagarhole (blessing in disguise No. 1) .We enquired with the forest office at Nagarhole and that was booked out as well.(blessing in disguise No. 2). We got out of the park and booked ourselves into this place.

We drove around the park and spotted quite a lot of wildlife on the way. We were greeted by an elephant charge. [ The tiger story is at the end, btw]

Followed by wild boar.

A Peacock…

An eagle

Deer at full gallop.

Peek-a-boo

A langur

A few bison

A cat stalking birds 🙂

Macro’s are not my thing, but this one was too prominently out there and begged to be clicked with that vibrant green b/g

A herd of elephants frolicking

This was the usual stuff that everyone sees. We were there for the tigers. Expectations will nil. We set out on the last safari for the day. About 10 mins into the safari, we heard exclamations of a tiger spotting. We looked and saw a tiger, about 15 feet away, majestically seated under a bush. With the loud exclamations and the sound of the engine, it got up and slid away into the bushes. It took about 3-4 seconds to bring up my camera , 2-3 seconds to focus and by that time, it was gone. All I could manage is this picture. You can see just a little bit of the tiger. This is the only picture that anyone has of the sighting!

Content after our first tiger sighting in years, we moved on. Exactly after 3 minutes, we saw another tiger leaping across the safari track, leaping a few feet to high ground and disappearing. We were elated to say the least. The safari ended and we made a log registry entry of the tiger sighting at the forest office. We were lucky.

We had received a tip from the forest range officer that there is a temple about 20kms away and the road to reach it passes through the Kerala side of the forest range and a sighting is possible as the forest cover there was very thick. The thing about Kerala is that they don’t restrict vehicular movement in the night in the national park. Karnataka, on the contrary, does not permit vehicular traffic in Nagarhole between 6pm and 6am. Since  we were there for sighting the tigers and since we had nothing else to do at 7pm and we were officially in Kerala, we drove in anticipation. Similar to the safari, about 15 mins into the drive, we saw a tiger and a bison engaged in a fight. The tiger sped with the light of the headlamps while the bison stood there looking in the direction in which the tiger sped away. We were elated. We all thought we should buy a lottery ticket and we would have won in that as well. We reached the temple (in the middle of nowhere with a couple of small eating shacks) , had dinner, and started back. It must have been around 10pm or so when we reached the intersection of the temple road and the road to the guest house. There was a fork in the road and the other side of the fork was a road down south to kerala. We set ourselves a time limit of 30 minutes to drive down that road before heading back. All this while , we were still in the kerala side of the forest range. As we drove along the fork, we spotted another tiger at around 10-20pm walking parallel to the road. This tiger kept walking parallel to the road for about 2-3 minutes. We were amazed. Our fourth sighting for the day! The last was the best. We had a good 2-3 minutes view of the tiger.

The whole experience was insane! On earlier trips, when the expectations were high, the experience was very forgettable! With zero expectations came the experience that will not be forgotten!

Date of sightings: 16th June 2012.

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Sir David Attenborough’s Documentaries – Timeless Masterpieces

Sir David Attenborough – Born 8th May 1926 , Age 85. His birthday is 3 days away.

David Attenborough

David Attenborough. Pic courtesy JrScientist under Flickr Creative Commons License

Wishing you a very Happy 86th Birthday in advance,Sir David.

On September 26th 2007, I wrote a blogpost on my old blog about how I chanced upon the work of David Attenborough on TV. I was captivated and fascinated by his extremely amicable narrative style. He is a class apart.

On that day, I had decided that I will, one day, buy the entire collection of his works. His main work is The Life Series spanning 29 years between 1979 and 2008. Besides the Life Series, he has worked on numerous other documentaries , most notably the triad series of the BBC Natural History Unit which consists of The Blue Planet(2001), Planet Earth(2006) and The Frozen Planet(2011). Planet Earth is the most expensive nature documentary ever produced by BBC at a staggering 16million pounds. Planet earth was also commissioned for TV networks  in over 150 countries.(Source BBC Press)

Having bought the DVD collections and as I sit back every evening watching these documentaries, I can say without doubt that this is one of the best DVD collections I have ever bought.(To be frank , these are the only DVD box sets I have ever bought. I make sure I spare myself from all the useless movie DVD’s).  As I watch every episode, I am constantly reminded of Al-Gore’s (former vice-president of  USA)  2006 documentary: An Inconvenient Truth. The next time you plan to visit a multiplex to watch a crappy melodramatic bollywood movie or plan to buy an IPL(Indian Premier League) ticket, go buy yourself some David Attenborough docu’s instead.

Sir David Attenborough, take a bow.

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