10 filmmakers and photographers on the joys of forging a language between man and nature
Aditya Singh¬†(46) is a civil-servant-turned wildlife photographer and conservationist. His latest documentary for the National Geographic Film and Television Company was on the predators of Ranthambhore
‚ÄėOutdoor photography, especially wildlife photography, is really challenging. There is very little besides the camera that is in the cameraman‚Äôs control. You cannot control the light or the perspective. The subject almost never cooperates with the cameraman. Worst of all, there are no guarantees that the subject would even make an appearance at the shoot. This is precisely what makes it exciting ‚ÄĒ it is unpredictable ‚ÄĒ kind of like gambling. When it does happen, you only get one chance and if you mess it up, it is gone forever. In other words, there are no retakes.
Wildlife photography is a very powerful tool for conservation. It documents wildlife, spreads awareness and highlights the relevant issues. How many people would be interested in conservation if there were no pictures or videos of wildlife?‚Äô
‚ÄėIt‚Äôs late¬†evening, pitch dark, and drizzling outside. You can see elephants grazing in the flashes of the occasional lightning, hear their trunks ripping grass, slapped on the knees before being eaten. Somewhere in the distance, the beat of the tribal drums… Everything is peaceful yet unreal, when the scream of a bull pierces the darkness, and the hairraising sound of the crushing vegetation sends shivers down your spine. It is followed by a roar, the unmistakable roar of a tiger. And then silence ‚ÄĒ an exclusive silence worth being shared, but never to be disturbed.
We want to share this silence with an audience, world over. We have always loved the sounds of silence, and have always been sincere students of natural history, out of passion. This passion has made us very rich in experience. We have a lot of stories to tell, many experiences to share. And that is why we shoot.‚Äô
‚ÄėNature thrills¬†me. Being a self-taught photographer, some of my best lessons came from being in the field. Every day in this profession is different, depending on where I am ‚ÄĒ be it Corbett, Kanha, or an obscure valley in the Himalayas. I sleep the same, regardless of whether I‚Äôm in a luxurious wildlife lodge, or a tent, or even a cave in a rocky snowy terrain. My photography is also a tool to spread awareness. For conservation, the most important thing is to get people interested in wildlife. And visuals are the strongest and quickest tools we have to attract the public eye. In a nutshell, I love this job and this life. I‚Äôve never wanted to do anything else, despite the hardships and the financial strain.‚Äô
‚ÄėMaking films¬†on nature is very fulfilling. I feel, I often see what other people miss out on. It is interesting to see people fascinated by close-ups of large compound eyes of dragonflies or the translucent quality of leaves when light passes through. I try to fascinate my viewers with simple things. Make them see the beauty and purpose in all forms of life and send out a hidden message.
Another reason stems from a sense of responsibility. I believe some times people keep on living without much thinking. They might be aware, but are unable to see the trajectories. Unable to connect how their small actions affect the planet as a whole. As a communicator, it is my responsibility to sensitise and educate them, and if possible, suggest some solutions. I also feel that green films need a larger canvas. We are hardly able to reach out to millions who are living in small cities, towns and villages. Our films should touch their lives too.‚Äô
‚ÄėImages do¬†not change the world. But they provoke reactions in people that can cause change to happen. This is why I do what I do ‚ÄĒ photograph, write and communicate.
I started wildlife photography as a means to share my experiences in nature with the rest of the world. But I could not just mindlessly photograph the natural world as it suffered and disappeared in front of my eyes. This is where I found photojournalism to be an effective tool to communicate with people; to show them the wonders of nature and provoke reactions and responses.
India has some of the most diverse wildlife in the world and we have managed, so far, to conserve it well. Even with our ever-growing needs and the cost of keeping up with the 9 percent GDP growth. The future, however, looks uncertain. Photography makes us curious. Curiosity leads to engagement and conversation, which in turn may lead to action.‚Äô
As land, water, forests and minerals in this country are looted under globalisation. I am surprised to see how the term conservation is portrayed in an apolitical manner. When I made a documentary¬†The Source of Life for Sale¬†about peoples‚Äô movements against water privatisation in India, I realised that water conservation was portrayed as a part of individual lifestyle. The solution suggested by many middle class conservationists was: ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt waste water and close your taps properly”. Household consumption of water amounts to only 5 to 6 percent of India‚Äôs total consumption. Ninety-five percent of water is consumed by destructive methods of agriculture and industries. Conservationists do not get involved in struggles against large dams, super thermal plants, nuclear power plants and hundreds of other mega projects like POSCO and Vedanta. The real culprits of destruction of nature in this country are the state and the corporate world. Many activist filmmakers, including me, have come out with films trying to open the public eye to the economic and political structure of environment destruction. For example, the destruction of a threatened species like Olive Ridley Turtles or ecologically significant sand dunes or even the forest lands by the South Korean mega multinational POSCO, in India.
‚ÄėWildlife has¬†been a passion, photography another. A beautiful way to engage with nature, to understand it, to be part of it, to lie down on the beach looking up at the starlit sky, waiting for turtle hatchlings to emerge from their nests and head toward the sea; camping in the middle of the forest and listening to the sounds; walking through a sea of fireflies floating in the landscape like hanging stars.
I see wildlife films as a strong tool for communication. India has many layers ‚ÄĒ when we talk of wildlife it is not in isolation, but in relation with humans. My work lies in finding the context for traditional knowledge in changing biodiversity, a bridge between today‚Äôs science and embedded knowledge of communities. I see my role as bringing out these stories in a strong way, which can be used at different levels for dialogue, change and awareness, and resolving human-animal conflicts.‚Äô
‚ÄėInitially, the¬†camera was just a tool to help me document behaviour and also capture images of animals and plants around me. Slowly, photography grew on me as I became fascinated with the ability to shoot, and share the natural world with people and create awareness. As I explored it further, my photography went through many changes but the primary focus remained unchanged ‚ÄĒ my subject was always nature and the great outdoors.
Over the years, I‚Äôve realised that there are enough beautiful images, and a good amount of awareness about the natural world. My focus has shifted to what‚Äôs now called conservation photography. It‚Äôs not just about taking pretty pictures. It‚Äôs more about capturing shocking images that take stock of the current state of the environment and that will, with some hope, inspire conservation action.‚Äô
Vimlendu Jha¬†(32) founded Swechha ‚Äď We for Change Foundation in 2000, triggered by the state of the endangered the Yamuna. The Delhi-based NGO works with the youth to engage in environmental and social issues
Having worked on social development issues for over a decade, one gets used to misery ‚Äď the ecological as well as human. The Yamuna, for me, is more than a river; it‚Äôs an inspiration of strength and a reflection of how humans can destroy their life source. When I started working on Yamuna a decade ago, I never realised it would become my identity – my desire was to see it clean and taken care of. Instead, it has further degraded and Delhi dwellers have grown more distant and detached from it. My effort through photography has been to bring out relevance and solicit action from the person who is viewing my work. Each photograph for me is a story, a canvas and not just a standalone ‘still’. I always feel I am part of the frame and not just someone who is clicking the moment. My expectation from someone who sees my photograph is the same ‚Äď find oneself in the picture, to see if the stories cross roads. My audience is everyone, just everyone. The problems that my photographs depict are common visuals from our day-to-day lives ‚Äď things and events we see but conveniently ignore, unconsciously. I use photographs as just a trigger. My work is inspired by the river‚Äôs resilience, its determination and also its forgiveness. For me, the Yamuna is a person I love.