Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Indians : 150 years of portrait photography ; 2 - a portrait of Moraji Desai and a viewer's projection

In the book of Indian portraits by Raghu Rai discussed earlier, there is a photo of Moraji Desai, a former prime minister of India who lived to be almost 100 years old, and who was responsible for the jailing of his rival, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. It is an image that makes me laugh because it reveals the man as a bit of a "goonda" (a Hindi word that means ruffian yet when anglicised also implies foolishness).

Another photographer raised an objection to this photograph because it has apparently been photoshopped with the white of the khadi cloth that Desai is wearing being a slightly darker colour. This other photographer felt it was disrespectful since however "dirty" a politician Desai might have been, his khadi was always white.

I decided to ask Raghu Rai about this to ascertain his reasons for doing so. Was he motivated to portray Desai in this way?

The first thing that Raghu pointed out was that the image had not been photoshopped. It was one that he no longer has the negative of and so the print had been scanned.

To make an effective print, Raghu needed to burn in the detail of the hat and cloth and hence they appear darker; there was no attempt on his side to portray Desai as a dirty politician by darkening his khadi !!

Raghu Rai then went on to reveal how the detail in the clothes contrasted with the detail in the face of Desai and the way in which this lay at the heart of the design of this photograph.

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