Monday, December 05, 2016

In A Minority, But Loving It

Women wildlife photographers are a rarity in Kerala. Seema Suresh and Aparna Purushothaman talk about their experiences 

Photo: Aparna Purushothaman  and Seema Suresh 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Seema Suresh, 38, and a group of friends, were travelling, recently, in a car, through the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. Suddenly, they saw an astonishing sight. An enraged elephant was attacking a 10 foot tall tree, with his tusks. “For about 15 minutes, he went on knocking the tree,” says Seema. “Then, as if in slow motion, the tree fell down with a thud. 

The moment that happened, the elephant cooled down suddenly. It moved to one side and began to eat grass peacefully. He reminded me of some human beings.”

Seema took dozens of photos. “I love to shoot elephants, because I have seen them from my childhood, when I would go to temples,” she says. “But this was the first time I saw an angry wild elephant.” 

The Kochi-based Seema is one among a handful of women wildlife photographers in Kerala. And she came to this passion by accident. In June, 2011, she saw a Facebook (FB) post about a wildlife photography camp being held at a sanctuary in Thrissur district. She took part. And got gripped by it. 

Today, Seema has taken photos of the tiger, spotted deer, langur, nilgai, sloth bear, and birds like the flamingo and the Great Hornbill in all the major forests of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. In end October, Seema went to the Bandipur Wild Life Sanctuary. Her series on wild dogs was shown at the recent 'Open Origins, Open Ends' exhibition held at the Durbar Hall, Kochi. 

Meanwhile, when asked about the disadvantages of being a woman photographer, Aparna Purushothaman, another wildlife photographer, says, “In our society, it is not possible for us to go into a forest on our own. We don't have the freedom. Instead, I have to be attached to a group.” 

But, mostly, Aparna is accompanied by her husband, Ashok Damodaran, an assistant engineer in the Kerala State Electricity Board. 

Aparna's love of photography was triggered by a gift, in 2012, from Ashok, of a Sony Cybershot camera. She began by taking shots of nature. But, these days, she uses the Canon 5D Mark 3, with 100-400 mm lenses.“Because I am a woman, many people pay attention to my images when I upload them on FB,” says Aparna, a Kottayam-based doctoral research scholar, at MG University, as well as a teacher. 

Like Seema, Aparna has shot in places like the Parambikulam and Neyyar wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala, as well as in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. 

Apart from the joy of shooting pictures, conservation is uppermost on her mind. “If I see somebody aiming a gun at a bird or an animal, I will immediately lodge a complaint with the forest department,” says Aparna. “It is only when you go to the forest and see the beauty of the animals that you realise that killing them is a sacrilege.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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