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Varanasi: Portrait of a Civilization

Raghu Rai (Author) Geoffrey C Ward (Author)
Synopsis One of the oldest cities in the world, Varanasi has remained unchanged over the centuries. The prayers the pilgrims chant as they walk its sacred streets, and the hope of redemption they bring with them, are the same as they were  hundreds of years ago.

In this magnificent book, made up of images culled from over three decades of work, Raghu Rai captures more of the city's distinctive, timeless character than anyone else ever has. From its busy ghats to its teeming lanes and bylanes to its daily rituals of death and renewal, Rai documents the intensity of people's faith. The India Rai mirrors is not a piece of exotica but real, human, multilayered, and his best pictures convey the extraordinary simultaneity of Indian street life; each contains not one but several decisive moments.

As Rai's photographs demonstrate, the secular and the profane coexist in Varanasi; the old can hardly be told from the new, and everything is experienced all at once. For Rai, each trip to the city is like a new awakening, and each time he emerges purified and fulfilled. For the reader, happily, the effect is the same. Whether one is a believer or not, the book draws one into the depths of an ancient civilization.
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About the author

Raghu Rai

Raghu Rai started photographs in 1965.  He was Chief Photographer of The Statesman (1966-1976).  In 1977, legendary photographer Henri Cartier - Bresson nominated Rai to Magnum Photos, the world’s most prestigious photographers’ cooperative.  Thereafter, Rai was Picture Editor with Sunday (1997-1980) and Picture Editor - Visualiser – Photographer of India Today (1982-1991) where he contributed trail – blazing picture-essays on social, political and cultural themes of the decade.

In 1971, he was awarded the Padmashree, one of India’s highest civilian awards.  In 1992, he received the ‘Photographer of the Year’ award in the United States for his story, ‘Human Management of wildlife in India’, published in National Geographic.  His photo-essays have appeared in many of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers.  He has been on the jury of the World Press Photo contest, thrice and on UNESCO’s International Photo Contest, twice.

Raghu Rai has done extensive photo-documentation of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy and its continuing effects on the lives of the victims as a special assignment for Greenpeace International.

He has 28 books to his credit including Raghu Rai’s Delhi, The Sikhs, Tibet in Exile, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Raghu Rai’s India and India’s Great Master Musicians.  His works have also been published in major books done by Magnum Photo.

Rai’s photographs have been exhibited in one man shows in Bunkamura Museum, Tokyo and Museo De Capitolini, rome.  They have also been exhibited in prestigious galleries.  In 2007, a major retrospective of his work was held at Arles Festival, while in 2008, the bigger ever retrospective of a photographer in India was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi and Mumbai.

Raghu Rai continues to be an associate of Magnum Photos and works on personal projects and pictorials.

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Bibliographic information

Title Varanasi: Portrait of a Civilization
Format Hardcover
Date published: 31.12.2010
Edition 1st ed.
Language: English
isbn 8172239955, 9788172239954
length 161p., Col. Illustrations; 34cm.