The lady in red leaned forward, looked into Raghu Rai‘s eyes and asked “So is it the photographer’s eye that matters?”
Rai put his hand on his heart and said “No, not the eye, photos are taken with my heart. The eye is connected to the heart.”
One only needs to take a look at his collection of images in the book and exhibition “Bangladesh: price of freedom” he launched at the Bengal Gallery to see how true his words are.
The book was not available but in the exhibition catalogue he said “It was August and monsoon was at its peak, the sky was a deep grey and it rained all the way. The border was not just porous; it was overflowing from all sides. The refugees with their meagre belongings were pouring in. Once in a while people appeared in bullock carts. Most were drenched and soaked in rain, and overwhelmed with suffering and fatigue. There was a kind of silence – no one talked. There was nothing the others did not know. It was a national tragedy common to all.”
The sound of silence was with him four decades after. In his short speech at the book launch the pain surfaced as he remembered poignantly, ” the silence was so painful – amazing and unbelievable. … I was suffering.”
The finding of negatives of these 1971 images that were thought to be lost is recounted by Shahidul Alam in his blog Shahidulnews. “. … the significance of newfound work by the great image maker would have been exciting in itself. While reliving the torment was painful, I couldn’t help being awed by the enormity of the find. And what a find!”
In the foreword to the book Alam says “They say photographs tell more of the observer than the observed. It is this gentle but probing eye that holds these frames together. An eye that watches, from close up, but ever so lightly. Raghu tiptoes delicately through this muddy path. Careful not to let his penetrating gaze leave shards that might cut. But the gaze is unrelenting all the same. A lonely mother by the root of a giant banyan tree, is as carefully lifted onto his frame, as the smiling muktijoddha playing with his new found pet rabbit. It is the human condition stripped bare. Revealing all, but still holding secrets. Secrets in those eyes, that carry the burden of near ones lost, of homes torn asunder, of journeys leading nowhere. Eyes that close without sleeping.”
Alam’s foreword is a must read for all before visiting the exhibition. His summing up succinct- “There is the sadness of loss, and the joy of victory, but there is no staged heroic imagery. Rai photographs the frailty of people, even fighters. An unsure young Mukti, barely taller than his gun stands by a fluttering flag. His posture giving away his rural origins. These are the heroes who will never have roads named after them. Who will never assert their ‘rights’ as muktijoddhas. Who will return to the paddy fields. It is this ability to capture the quintessential moment, where a fraction of a second becomes the unique signifier of a time. The fleeting moment that becomes timeless, that makes Rai the artist that he is. It is not a war that he has photographed, but humanity itself.”
Raghu Rai joined Magnum Photos in 1977 as a Correspondent.
“A photograph has picked up a fact of life, and that fact will live forever.”/ Raghu Rai