But what ultimately defined Ramrakha was his keen eye. Theroux wrote: “He became a photographer because he saw events that others missed…the swaggering politicians, the street life in towns, the texture of villages, the faces of national soldiers and rough and ready guerrillas, and the brutality, too—the casualties, the starving children, the grieving relatives, the corpses.” He added: “Priya took powerful pictures but few of them can be described as pretty.”
Though Ramrakha’s career was but a brief spark, his position as a non-white African photographer on the international stage was mold-breaking. The following decade, Kenyan photojournalist Mohamed Amin rose to prominence and left behind a powerful legacy, and in post-apartheid South Africa, others followed. Though it’s unlikely that Ramrakha had a direct influence on his successors, he represented a critical moment in photographic history, and a significant voice in Africa at a time when most were not elevated—back then, editors relied on foreign correspondents to tell the continent’s stories.
Recently, there has been a reckoning regarding how Africa is portrayed in editorial and reportage photography. Last year, National Geographic editor Susan Goldberg apologized for the magazine’s “racist” coverage, which had persisted for decades. It was far from the only magazine that furthered stereotypes of the continent; as educator and author John Edwin Mason pointed out in an essay for the monograph, Life’s coverage also played up the “primitive exoticism” of African culture. During Ramrakha’s career, Haney said, editors favored “simplistic coverage of Africa” that avoided the complexities of politics and the effects of colonialism. “At its heart [it was a] racist implication that was guiding a lot of editorial principles,” Haney continued.