Monday, November 24, 2008

Why am I a Wildlife Photographer?

Why am I a Wildlife Photographer?
Twelve years ago, while finishing a two-year contract at the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Kandy, I had to make a decision about my immediate career future. If I wanted to stay on at the IFS, I had to register for my next Degree, a PhD in Archaeology. Instead I wanted to leave, as I still had a hope of joining the Dept. of Archaeology, despite five frustrating years of trying. I also felt that there would be time enough to do a Ph D, if I found full time employment in Archaeology, and was able to identify needs, and design research programmes, accordingly. At the back of my mind however, I knew that the prospect of joining the Dept. was not the best.
While I was thinking aloud of other options, based on my many interests, my Supervisor, and team leader at the time, Dr Martha Prickett Fernando, an American Archaeologist, asked me to list out all the things I wanted to do, and arrange them in order of priority. There were two that topped the list. One was to become the best wildlife photographer that I can be, while working for Conservation. The other was to be a writer and write a best-selling book.
As my attempts to join the Dept. of Archaeology over the years, led to a series of dead ends, and the frequency of my visits to National Parks, especially Yala, increased, I also met like minded individuals engaged in similar pursuits. In 1999, I decided to focus on wildlife photography almost single mindedly. At the time, the need to take better photographs, of leopards in particular, was strongly felt by a small group of us, that had come together, to produce a book on the Sri Lanka leopard. This was primarily to further the conservation of this little understood and sometimes, much misunderstood carnivore. My method was to totally immerse myself in tracking, learning about and photographing leopards, to get from where I was as a photographer, to where I wanted to go.
Fortunately, the fact that I was not employed on a regular basis, freed me to spend as much time as I could in Yala. In the year 2000, I also got acquainted with a Yala Game Guard, a tracker, by the name of Kumara Banda. Born in Kumana village, he had an extraordinary instinct for animals, combined with the most unbelievable field craft.
Jehan Kumara, the late Dr Ravi Samasinha, and I were the three main collaborators in compiling a book on all aspects of the Sri Lanka leopard .In 2003, our book, ‘For the Leopard’ was published, and a generous contribution that covered all the design, and publishing costs, enabled the Leopard Trust Fund, that was simultaneously launched, to grow from the sale proceeds of the book.
I am the middle child in a family of three boys. From my youngest days my interest was in Nature, and I was to subsequently discover the world of books. Mechanical things never interested me. My other family members are more mechanically and technically savvy, and that includes my mother. However, I am a self - taught photographer, who as a child, with a plastic camera, took photographs of natural subjects only. People were never a part of what I chose to photograph. To this day I have to remind myself to sometimes photograph people too.
In 1999, I decided to fuse my knowledge as a naturalist, with my interest in photography. One of my secondary objectives was to prove that wildlife photography in Sri Lanka could and should reach international standards.
In 2002, my photograph of a hawk eagle grappling with a land monitor, taken in Yala, was given a Highly Commended award by BBC WILDLIFE magazine’s WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR, competition. This is recognized as the biggest and most prestigious international competition for wildlife photography. It is open to amateurs and professionals alike, and that year received approximately 20,000 entries. Awards were given to just 100 entries. The picture traveled with the competition’s annual exhibition, both in Britain and Europe, as well as North America and Australia. Thereby, Sri Lankan wildlife and Yala, in particular got rare exposure, and I felt vindicated. The photograph was also published in the Book - Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Portfolio 12.
I still believe, that cameras and lenses, are merely tools that enable you to capture the picture that you have in mind, or freeze that fleeting moment in time. Just as much as my vehicle, is a means of transport, to get me to where I want to go, wherever that may be.
To be seduced by the technology (that is constantly changing anyway), and lose oneself in the techno babble is to lose sight of what is paramount, which is your subject, and the way it is presented.
Photographing Nature is a powerful way to raise awareness of its beauty and importance, beyond the confines of the enthusiastic few.
All the photographs, bar one, in this exhibition are printed from colour slides, or transparencies, although I have been using a Digital Camera as a back up since mid 2004, and as my frontline camera since 2006. The large backlog of my photographs using slide film, requires me to restrict my selection to film. This Exhibition, is also my long goodbye to film.
The photographs exhibited here, span the period 2002 to 2007 with the exception of three or four, that were taken earlier. None have been exhibited before, and reflect my personal selection.
In photographing animals, I make every effort to capture the essence of that animal. I hope I have succeeded. My selection does not in any way constitute a representative collection of this Island’s substantial bio-diversity. Neither is it restricted to Sri Lankan subjects.
I make no apologies for what I choose to photograph. I do not believe that wildlife should be viewed as ours, mine and theirs. Thankfully, animals have the good sense not to respect our political boundaries and live freely, governed by their needs only.
They live in a borderless world, and we too need to take a cue from them, and have an ecosystem approach to conservation. A nation’s wildlife is in reality a part of the natural heritage of the whole world.
I am essentially a long lens photographer, and this collection also reflects that bias. It also focuses on my special interests, which are birds and leopards.
To be successful, a wildlife photographer, requires, concentration, patience and discipline. Some days in the field can be shatteringly exhausting, with little result to show for the effort. I have made many personal sacrifices along the way, but the sum total of time spent out in wilderness areas, in the proximity of wild animals, has been a sheer joy. I have absolutely no regrets. The natural beauty and events that I have witnessed, far exceeds what I have been able to capture within the confines of 35mm frames, most often from within the confines of a restrictive vehicle.
I hope what I have succeeded to capture, inspires others, especially the younger generation, to appreciate and safeguard our irreplaceable natural heritage.

my exhibition of photographs runs at the
8th Lane, Colombo 3
from 26th November to 7th December 2008
10am to 7pm


The Benevolent Dictator said...

Hi Rukshan..was pleasantly surprised to see your blog and enjoyed reading about how you came to be what you are. I shall add this to the list of blogs I regularly visit.

All the best and hope to bump into you soon.

Times Eye said...

wow.what a carrier

Mohammed Abidally said...

Really enjoyed your exhibition, the quality of your images are really stunning. It took me a while to digest. You have great subjects, magic moments, great long lens technique, very nice compositions too but I feel your inner strenght is the subtle way you "play with the light"....