Raghu Rai 'Invocation To India'
The Hyson Green area of Nottingham has been revitalised in recent years and the expensive brick-fest that is the New Art Exchange is at the heart of that re-invention. The nihilistic 1960's council estate that sucked the life out of the neighbourhood is gone and although local taxpayers will still be paying interest on it for decades to come the decision to spend big again seems to have been the right one.
For an area with an Indian community several generations deep it is not surprising that the comment book is overflowing with heartfelt gratitude in response to this work. Which is remarkable considering that what is depicted is not a flattering view of national identity. It's everyday life and it's full-on, and although compassionate and connected it is devoid of sentimentality or nostalgia. Dirty, dauntingly poor, but while impoverished in a material sense India's people are clearly anything but by any more rounded assessment. It will not be to everyone's taste. After exposure to the sweat and crash of these documents some art critics, for whom people-photography remains untenable, may need to go home, shower, then spend an hour or two recovering, perhaps amongst the reassuring vinegary aroma of their commisioned oil painting portraits.
The show comprises mostly large 50 inch black and white panoramic prints (occasionally shot vertically!) and smaller 28 inch colour pieces. As a long time Magnum agency photo-journalist he has enjoyed the freedom to work without needing to be accountable to the demands of funding bodies. And he's paid his way through producing photographs that people naturally gravitate to, and that will be an authentic legacy for his country comparable to that of Atget in France at the back end of the 19th century. The difference being that Atget with a long exposure plate camera held on to light and space and form while Rai takes the people along with him, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of them.
Invocation To India ends 30 April 2011.