World Tiger Day: Meet these four Indian women photographers who are capturing moving and thought-provoking images of the big cat
We celebrate International Tiger Day by catching up with four women photographers and their thought-provoking images of the big cat
Although the field of wildlife photography is disproportionately male-dominated (and unlike science and technology, not many women have become part of this adventurous and thrilling profession), photographers Rathika Ramasamy, Latika Nath, Aishwarya Sridhar and Shabnam Siddiqui, are changing the game by taking over the wildlife photography scene in the country. Ahead of International Tiger Day (July 29), meet these four photographers who are at the forefront of tiger conservation via their cameras.
Into the wild
An engineer with an MBA degree, Chennai-based Rathika Ramasamy left a lucrative IT job to pursue her passion for capturing wildcats through her lens when she visited the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh in 2004. “I saw a tiger and clicked my first picture. I immediately fell in love with the animal,” says Rathika. She tells us that in her two decades of a career in photography she hasn’t even captured 30 percent of the tiger’s beauty. “They are magnificent. After so many years, I still fall in love with them whenever I click them. They are the key elements of the forest,” says Rathika, who is arguably the first Indian woman to strike an international reputation as a wildlife photographer.
Armed with Nikon lenses, Rathika’s strikingly alive and captivating images of tigers are a result of her special bond with the big cats. “Just like elephants, tigers remember the person they see often. When you spend enough time with them you get the pictures you want, but you need to have patience,” she explains.
Over the years, Rathika has travelled across the globe to capture tigers. But her road to success was equally challenging. “When I started, there was no woman in the wildlife photography field that I know of. People would ask me how I could manage to carry heavy equipment on my trips into the jungles. There was no separate toilet facility and I would stay in a single room with other male photographers,” she says adding, “But tigers have always been supportive of me!”
More on rathika.ramasamy.com
The tiger princess
At the age of six, when kids could barely hold a book, Delhi-based Latika Nath also known as the Tiger Princess of India, was already effortlessly balancing a camera. She would observe her father taking photos and in 1991 Latika began documenting tiger behaviours for her doctoral research. Latika is India’s first woman to become a wildlife biologist with a doctorate in tiger conservation and management from Oxford. However, just like many women in India, marriage, “posed a full stop” to her career in photography for 10 years.
“After we separated I picked up the camera again. It was this time that I tried my hand at wildlife photography,” she recalls and shares that for the next few years she travelled across the world to document tigers. Working closely with tigers for over 25 years, Latika dove deep into the adventurous and challenging profession that has often put her in death-defying conditions and forced her to deal with harsh remarks from people around her. But even in hindsight, Latika wouldn’t have it otherwise. “People were skeptical and no one believed that I was working in the remote forests of central India alone,” says Latika, who has managed to frame her tiger conservation experiences in her fascinating pictures. She further adds, “It can take years of patience and a lot of luck to get something new or remarkable in terms of animal behaviour.”
More on latikanath.com
Framing big cats
Navi-Mumbai-based, Aishwarya Sridhar saw the majestic predator walking right in front of her eyes in a forest in central India when she was a 10-year-old, it changed the course of her life. She picked up the camera and started clicking photos of the big cat following it up with a documentary film Tiger Queen of Taru on a wild Bengal tigress Maya, from Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. “It was a changing point in my life,” says Aishwarya, who is the first Indian woman to win the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award by the Natural History Museum in London. A tree illuminated with the warm bioluminescent glow of fireflies is what formed the subject of Aishwarya’s prize-winning photo titled ‘Lights of Passion’.
Aishwarya credits her love for nature and photography skills to her unconventional upbringing, away from Mumbai’s hustle-bustle. “I would spend time chasing butterflies and watching flamingos on binoculars near my house,” recalls the 24-year-old photographer. Armed with Canon lenses, Aishwarya started exploring Indian forests in the search of tigers to get one perfect shot. “I have waited for hours and days to get one right shot, and there have been times when no matter how long I have waited, I haven’t got that one perfect picture which I wanted. It’s a game of patience,” shares the young achiever, who admires the works of wildlife filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert.
Tiger Queen of Taru is streaming on Disney+Hotstar
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Call of the hinterland
Delhi-based Shabnam Siddiqui would train her lenses on historical monuments and anything that took her fancy as a teenager. But when she travelled to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan in 2006, her camera was fixed on a tiger that emerged from the bushes looking straight into the lens.
"That was the exact moment when I fell in love with tigers and decided to pursue photographing tigers,” says Shabnam, who believes that there is no right moment to capture a tiger on camera. “You have to wait for hours to even spot a tiger. A lot goes behind that one right moment and there is a lot of patience behind every picture,” says Shabnam, who recalls that her initial challenge as a photographer was not being able to travel alone. “Only men would travel in a group and they would feel conscious if a woman was travelling with them,” she shares and adds that it is since 2016 that she has started trudging through different forests across the country to capture tigers.
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