Interview with Avani Rai

Interview with Avani Rai


Rai. The surname will ring a bell, especially since just last week we made many references to it in our blog and have no doubt that you all read us religiously ;). For the few of you who don’t anxiously wait for Thursday to come along to be able to read our blog, last week we wrote an article about Raghu Rai, the Father of Indian Photography, and that’s the Rai we are referring to.

Ok, so now that we’ve got that out of the way, what some of you may not know is that Raghu Rai has a very talented daughter. Her name is Avani.

Based out of Mumbai, India, Avani Rai has worked as a cameraperson on a number of short fiction and documentary films. Her most recent film: Raghu Rai-An Unframed Portrait’, directed and shot by her and co-produced by ARTE FRANCE, IDFA BERTHA FUND premiered at IDFA in the competition in  November 2017.

As a photographer she has contributed to the Sunday Guardian, Scroll, The Wire and is currently spends most her time in Kashmir documenting this politically complicated region and its people.

Avani Rai

Christelle Enquist: Do you consider yourself more a photographer or filmmaker?

Avani Rai: I wouldn’t want to stick to just one or for people to call me one or the other. Sometimes a single image is enough to tell a story and sometimes many need to be put together to tell it. Calling myself something would only limit me from what I want to do and say! 


CE : In your documentary: “Raghu Rai: an unframed portrait” (which we had the chance to watch and will be online soon), you mention that initially you were filming your father as a way of getting to know him better. Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with him and what you discovered through the filming him (if anything).

Avani Rai : From the daughter who was in awe of her father, the film got us to become two professionals who respected each other’s differences and similarities which to me was the most important. The film was a 6-year journey that helped me grow and not only did I understand my father in the process, it also made led me to understanding myself.


CE: What were you biggest challenges in creating this documentary?

Avani Rai: The biggest challenge was to be able to make my “own” film without being swayed by what my great father thought. The fact that I can call it my film is very important to me. And of course, to keep at it for 6 years until we finally finished it was a challenge and often very tiring.

CE: There must be pros and cons to being the daughter of “the father of Indian photography”. Can you share some with us?

Avani Rai: Yes of course! Like you say, I am always referred to as the ‘daughter’, and that is not always so great since I am a camera person myself. People also often say that you either have it in your “genes” or you don’t, which is actually funny because art can never be inherited. But the best thing is that I have a film school at home and that my father is also my teacher. 


CE: Who are the photographers/artists that have inspired and influenced you?

Avani Rai: All the great masters – Robert Capa, Abbas (from Iran), Sabastiao Salgado, Gian Paolo Barieri, Bresson and my father as well!


CE: Why do you mostly choose black and white for your photographs?

Avani Rai: Because with the kind of work I am currently doing, color often distracts from the emotion that is caught in the moment. Black and white on the other hand, keeps the focus on your subject, on their eyes, and on the emotion. I often also feel that color is tougher than black and white because everything needs to be in sync and its often out of your control.

Black and white helps me express what I want better. Especially with Kashmir as my subject.

 CE: There is a growing movement of women photographers, what are your thoughts on the issue and what is it like being a women photographer in India?

Avani Rai: I feel that photojournalism is currently going through a tough period, especially with the rising popularity of infotainment.

At this point in the world today, and in India especially – we need to have a society of photographers who come together not just photographers, but as women as well.

In India, photography as a profession for women is a very new. Historically we have had very few known Indian women photographers, but there is a lot of potential and we are lucky because there is just so much to capture in India.


CE: Any plans on applying to Magnum?

Avani Rai: Of course! Magnum photographers have given us the photographic history of the world, something that is so precious! I think that becoming a Magnum photographer is always the plan for anyone who wants to pursue photography seriously, and for me in particular since my father is one of them.

CE: What tips would you give to aspiring photographers?

Avani Rai: Observe! Be in the moment! Don’t follow anyone else: create your own style and magic!

A big thank you Avani, for your time and for sharing your story with us.

Dear readers, if you want to see more of Avani’s work check out the links below!

Instagram | Twitter 


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@the_raw_society | @jorgedelgadophoto | @christelle_enquist