Piano^Graphy - Rai and Rachmaninoff
Sunday Magazine

Piano^Graphy - Rai and Rachmaninoff

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

Being nominated to the world’s most prestigious photo agency, Magnum Photos, New York, is equivalent to getting a Nobel Prize in Photography. Magnum Photos which was co-founded in 1947 by iconic photographers, Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Capa, among others, has nominated only one Indian photographer in 67 years. And that Indian is Raghu Rai. Interestingly it was Henri who nominated Rai in 1978 to Magnum Photos, when the former saw Rai’s photos at a Paris exhibition. And till 2014, Raghu Rai was the only Indian photographer who was a Member of Magnum.

<i>Photo by Kai Kong Wong</i>

Come to think of it – Rai’s interest in photography was sparked by the antics of a donkey in the early 1960s. Raghu Rai, a trained civil engineer who despised his job, was once witnessing his elder brother taking photos of children in a village, but what caught his attention was a donkey foal. He thought of shooting the animal, but the energetic donkey scooted, and Rai chased the donkey for hours much to the cheer and amusement of the kids. After the foal got tired out and stopped in his tracks, Rai took a photo, which captured the landscape in the fading evening light with the centerpiece—the donkey. Providentially, his brother sent this photo as an entry to a competition of “Times”, London. And lo behold a few weeks later the young Rai got a prize in cash which made his eyes bulge, and convinced him of where his sights should be trained in the future.

Over the decades, Rai made his distinctive mark in photo journalism producing eye-catching work for “The Statesman”, “Sunday” and “India Today”. And his photos garnered great appreciation in premier photo exhibitions and books across the globe.

While tomes have been written about the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster, which killed over 3000 innocents, what still remains in the collective consciousness of a generation, is Raghu Rai’s photo of the makeshift burial site of an unknown child, his eyes staring vacantly out of the rubble. While thousands of images of this deadly incident have been taken, only Rai’s eyes could capture the agony that Bhopal underwent on that fateful night. As Rai has said elsewhere: "Either you capture the mystery of things or you reveal the mystery. Everything else is just information”.

Rai has a story to tell in all his photographs. While this is a photo of a child’s corpse, the unknown hand over the head adds another dimension to the storytelling as it could be a hand of the relief operation personnel, a family member, or a concerned stranger.

Rai is credited with internationally acclaimed documentaries of Mother Teresa, Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and has been featured in the world’s most prized galleries and exhibitions in tandem with the greatest masters, with some of the most coveted awards to his name.

Author of many books, in his treatise on India’s most photographed architectural wonder, Taj Mahal, Raghu Rai’s lens zeroed in on not just the known facets of the Taj, but also on the forgotten incidents of everyday life—children prancing around the railway tracks, the soot of the puffing rail engine, skeletal remains washed ashore—indeed the cycle of life and death.

Coincidentally his latest photo book is on Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. In a recent conversation between Sadhguru and Rai, after seeing the photos, Sadhguru remarked, “…Some of the pictures look like videos…as they have captured moments in such a way that they are not ‘moments’, but ‘movement’ of things”. Released in September 2018, the ‘Sadhguru Photo Book’ is showcased as a Collector’s Item being one of the biggest Coffee Table Books weighing about 10 kilos(1.5’W x 2’H x 2’’).

Rai captures Sadhguru while he addresses an audience at the 112-feet Adiyogi statue at Coimbatore, recognised by the Guinness World Records as the "Largest Bust Sculpture" in the world. With the use of a wide angle lens, the entire podium along with the sculpture in the background is brought into the frame--thereby creating a sense of magnificence and scale. The clouds over the statue add further drama.

At the age of 75, Raghu Rai with more than 40 years of unrelenting magic, has chosen to stay put in India—and become undeniably the most revered Indian artist-photographer. He has been a catalyst for so many in the past and will continue to inspire emerging generations of photographers. It is apt to remember a quote of Raghu Rai,” A photograph has picked up a fact of life, and that fact will live forever”.


Sergei Rachmaninoff, who took up piano at the age of four, is revered among the last great pantheon of pianist-composers going back to Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Liszt. By the time he was 19 he was acclaimed for his one-act opera Aleko; and while still in his teens, had established his mettle as a composer and concert pianist with his two compositions: the Prelude in C-sharp Minor and his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor.

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto no.2 op.18 – The first movement, notably the most popular, is moderately paced and expresses a myriad of emotions and establishes the main theme. The second movement is played slow most of the part and with lot of expression. It gives a melancholic yet beautiful emotion. The final movement begins fast and energetic and has an improvisational nature and ends jubilantly.


In ‘The Great Pianists’, a book written by renowned critic Harold Schonberg, he described Rachmaninoff as one of the purest, most complete pianists who ever lived. To quote him, “At any Rachmaninoff concert, one noted the sharp rhythmic thrusts, the virility and the sense of sonority the man had. And, above all, a musical elegance in which phrases were shaped with exquisite finish. When he played a Liszt transcription of a Schubert song, one immediately realized how unimaginative and unmusical most singers were.”

Regarded as the last great figure in the tradition of Russian Romanticism’s towering composer and pianists, he is especially known for his piano concerti and the piece for piano and orchestra titled Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Another much-loved composition of Rachmaninoff was his choral symphony The Bells which, with its entwining of choral and orchestral resources, exhibited phenomenal ingenuity to create striking imitative and textural effects.

Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – This piece was inspired from the works of 19th century violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganni. It consists of 24 variations (parts), each emoting a different mood and story. It is said that the composition is inspired from the life of Paganini.


He also recorded Chopin, including a famous version of the “Funeral March” Sonata. One critic, bowled over by Rachmaninoff’s way with that sonata, wrote in 1930: “The logic of the thing was impervious; the plan was invulnerable; the proclamation was imperial. There was nothing left for us but to thank our lucky stars that we had lived when Rachmaninoff did and heard him, out of the divine might of his genius, re-create a masterpiece.”

A quote by Rachmaninoff is worth reflection: What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! Music is the Sister of Poetry and her Mother is sorrow!


Siddharth S.Kumar curates SIDART PHOTOGRAPHY, and his creative interests include Photography (named Best Photographer in Mindshare World network in 2014) & Piano (pursuing Grade 8 - Trinity College London). Professionally, he is Director (The Exchange), Mindshare, Chennai. Views are personal.

Check out Siddharth’s portfolio at http://www.sidartphotography.com/