Raghu Rai was born in the Punjab in 1942, qualified as civil engineer, started photography at the age of 23 in 1965. He has been at the fore front of photography in India for more than forty years. He joined The Statesman newspaper as their chief photographer (1966 to 1976), and was then Picture Editor with Sunday—a weekly news magazine published from Calcutta (1977 to 1980).
In 1971, impressed by Rai’s exhibition at Gallery Delpire, Paris, the legendary photographer Henri Cartier Bresson nominated him to Magnum Photos, the world’s most prestigious photographer’s cooperative. Rai took over as Picture Editor-Visualiser-Photographer of India Today, India’s leading news magazine in its formative years from 1982.
He worked on special issues and designs, contributing trailblazing picture essays on social, political and cultural themes of the decade (1982 to 1991) which became the talking point of the magazine.
He was awarded the ‘Padmashree’ in 1971, In 1992 he was awarded “Photographer of the Year” in the United States for the story “Human Management of Wildlife in India” published in National Geographic. Recently he has been conferred the award of Officier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.His photo essays have appeared in many of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers - including Time, Life, GEO, The New York Times, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Vogue, GQ, D magazine, Marie Claire, The Independent and the New Yorker.
He has been an adjudicator for World Press Photo Contest, Amsterdam and UNESCO’s International Photo Contest for many times. He has done extensive work on the photo documentation of 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy and its continuing effects on the lives of gas victims under a special assignment from Greenpeace International. This documentation was compiled into a book with 3 sets of exhibitions traveling in Europe, America, Australia, India and South East Asia from 2002 to 2005, which created greater awareness about the tragedy and bringing relief to many survivors. A special exhibition and picture book was created on India and Mexico in year 2002 in which his work was published along with two renowned photographers Graciela Iturbide (Mexico) and Sebastiao Salagado (France). His works have been published in major books done by Magnum Photos including Exhibitions.
In the last thirty five years, Rai has specialized in extensive coverage of India and has produced more than 30 books including Raghu Rai’s India – Reflections in Colour and Reflections in BW, The Indians – Portraits from Album,Varanasi – Portrait of a civilization, Bombay / Mumbai, and Calcutta / Kolkata.
Also read an essay by writer Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi