Between the Master and the Maker: Raghu Rai in conversation with JJ Valaya

Excerpts from an enriching conversation between the award-winning photojournalist and the black-and-white artist, at the STIR Gallery in New Delhi.

by STIRworld Published on : Feb 24, 2020

What happens when a much-celebrated photography exhibit decides to go beyond its own narrative, steer away from popular portrayal in the press and find a new perspective unto itself? What if the curator and the artist seek a new dimension and a new challenge – being voluntarily put to test through the discerning eye of the harshest and most honest critic in the country?

  • A glimpse from the exhibition Lalaari, which brought select photographs by JJ Valaya | JJ Valaya and Raghu Rai at STIR Gallery | Lalaari | STIRworld
    A glimpse from the exhibition Lalaari: Conversations with the Universe, which brought select photographs by JJ Valaya Image Credit: Courtesy of JJ Valaya
  • The exhibition is a result of Valaya’s curious interest in people and spaces, and photographic interests around portraiture and architecture | JJ Valaya and Raghu Rai at STIR Gallery | Lalaari | STIRworld
    The exhibition is a result of Valaya’s curious interest in people and spaces, and photographic interests around portraiture and architecture Image Credit: Courtesy of JJ Valaya
  • Lalaari: Conversations with the Universe is based on a simplistic approach to portraiture and revolves around select individuals | JJ Valaya and Raghu Rai at STIR Gallery | Lalaari | STIRworld
    Lalaari: Conversations with the Universe is based on a simplistic approach to portraiture and revolves around select individuals Image Credit: Courtesy of JJ Valaya

When photo-artist JJ Valaya and host Amit Gupta set out to explore aspects unbeknownst to the journey of Lalaari: Conversations with the Universe, the former’s show of black-and-white photographs hosted at the STIR Gallery in New Delhi and curated by Gallery Threshold, little did they think that one winter morning, the master of photography himself – Raghu Rai – would glide into the gallery swathed in a monk-like red robe, observing each portrait to its last fantasy and last flaw, and leaving everyone a little more enlightened.

Far from a critique, this turned out to be a conversation that brought out the essence of photography in its truest form – romancing creative freedom, embracing the here and now.

“I am a street photographer. I do candid photography. When I have to set up people in a situation, face to face, more than them I become overconscious,” confessed Rai, the award-winning photojournalist who is considered an institution in his own right.

Raghu Rai and JJ Valaya discussing the nuances of photography | JJ Valaya and Raghu Rai at STIR Gallery | Lalaari | STIRworld
Raghu Rai and JJ Valaya discussing the nuances of photography Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR

Walking through the gallery with Valaya -who is known as one of India’s top fashion designers and also dons the hat of a photographer, and Gupta - the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of STIR, Rai observed that creative freedom and photography are inextricable. “In creativity, the worst thing that can happen is when your mind is programmed for something, and you are expecting that something to come along. And if that doesn’t happen, you are zero!”

In response, Valaya recalled his process of photographing the Golden Temple in the past – and whilst it is a much clicked subject, what made the experience special to him were the clouds that floated in unpredictably, creating a whole new canvas. “I think one of the most beautiful takeaways for me after this conversation is the word ‘unpredictability’. Because I think that is where the magic lies; going beyond the expected,” said the designer-artist.

A photograph from the exhibition | JJ Valaya and Raghu Rai at STIR Gallery | Lalaari | STIRworld
A photograph from the exhibition Image Credit: Courtesy of JJ Valaya

The two talked about the challenges of a photographer vis-à-vis a writer or another artist, as while the latter can ‘multiply their concepts by putting several experiences into one’, the gift and the curse of the photographer is to deal with the physical reality of the here and now and silence that constant, buzzing voice in the head.

How does one break free of all the noise to bring one’s entire self to the important moment of creation of art? How does the artist become one with the energies of his subject in order to manifest these as something far more powerful? What is the role of truth in photography?

Watch the video to find the answers.

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