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Raghu Rai, "Backdrop Series." Image courtesy Aicon Gallery.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK --"In the course of my work," says Raghu Rai, receiving his first major solo exhibition in New York through March 20 at the Aicon Gallery at 35 Great Jones, "I find that I have been moving to focus on the changing equations of our times, trying to record the deeper universal human responses." A giant of photography who was nominated for the legendary Magnum Photos agency in 1977 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rai has been published by the New Yorker, Life, Time, and others, and has always prized a certain fidelity to the reality of his subjects. "'When I slice out a space, a moment," he explains, "it should be done with such simplicity and faithfulness that when I give it back to life, life starts moving and flowing around it without a stutter." The panoply of his work on view at Aicon -- much of it for the first time in the U.S. -- includes black and white and color, photo-montage, human and nature. In its sum, in addition to serving as a testament to the photographer's craft and eye, it represents a vivid portrait of India as captured by its premiere visual chronicler. "Over the centuries," says Rai, "so much has melded into India, that it's not really one country, and it's not one culture. It is crowded with cross-currents of many religions, beliefs, cultures and their practices that may appear incongruous. But India keeps alive the inner spirit of her own civilization with all its contradictions." The biggest of these captured by Rai's photos may be an at times abject poverty which contrasts with a luminous rich beauty, both in the humans portrayed by Rai and in the stunning landscapes and vistas of this vast and varied land.


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