Raghu Rai’s Delhi – book review

Raghu Rai's Delhi Raghu Rai may not be a name familiar to you unless you are a photography professional. He has, however, had a career which has been so noteworthy that he was awarded the Padmashree in 1971, one of India’s highest civilian awards. Raghu’s National Geographic article “Human Management of Wildlife in India” won him high praise in 1992. He has won national and international awards, and has exhibited in Europe, Japan and Australia. His work has appeared in many of the world’s most prestigious magazines and newspapers including Time, Life, GEO, The New York Times, Sunday Times, Newsweek, The Independent, and the New Yorker.

Raghu Rai’s Delhi is an archetypal coffee table book… that is to say that it is the size of a small coffee table. I have reviewed many large-format books but this is the largest and the most impressive. This is surely going to become a classic not only of Indian photographic subject matter but of photographic work in general, not for reasons of sheer volume but for quality of composition.

This book is the third that Raghu Rai has published on Delhi and it spans 40 years of this man’s celebrated work. He has enjoyed changes in photographic technology over those years and now carries only a digital camera. He hasn’t turned his back on black and white, he assess each shot and converts colour to monochrome, and the mix of both genres adds much to this major work. The colour pictures have vibrancy and impact and the black and white show mood and texture.

You don’t have to have a passion for the subcontinent to appreciate Raghu Rai’s Delhi. It is magnificent in its representation of humanity that we can all relate to. This book dwells neither on poverty nor on opulence, it shows candid scenes from everyday life, scenes that might have gone unnoticed or considered banal by those of us with a less practised eye. Each shot captures a never-to-be-repeated moment. A story vividly painted.

Do I have favourite pictures? Perhaps. “Peeping Faces, New Shopping Complex” shows a modern, light and airy sari shop with shelves filled with precisely folded lengths of gorgeous fabric. Modern furniture gives an almost Scandinavian feel to this picture which does still manage to speak of Indian style and grace. The facing page is “Reflections at Pizza Hut” showing a scene that could be repeated all over the world, but the reflections in the window suggest an older India.

Raghu Rai’s Delhi is quite simply the seminal photographic work on this amazing city. I have pored over this book for hours. Each frame is a masterpiece in its own right. Raghu Rai deserves his praise and awards. His talent must be a gift from one of India’s many Gods.

Raghu Rai’s Delhi
Author: Raghu Rai
Published by: Thames and Hudson
Price: £49.95
ISBN 13: 978-0500543771


Travelogue review by Chrissie Walker © 2018