Women wildlife photographers are a rare species like the animals they feature.
Here is a question women wildlife photographers are often asked – ‘how do you relieve yourself while you are shooting wildlife?’ Not many men in the profession are asked the question. There are very few women out in the field, which raises questions such as these. The number of women wildlife photographers isn’t increasing.
Seema Suresh remembers the missed shots. “The misses are memorable as they pave the way for the next,” says Seema. For the last five-odd years, this former journalist has been shooting in the wild.
Often the only woman on photography treks, she enjoys her walk off the beaten track. She wasn’t much of a photographer, she admits. But when she fell, she fell hard for photography. The sheer magnificence of shooting in the wild, the experience in its entirety excites her.
“We – me, a couple of others and a guide – trekked to Kundumedu, 18 kms off Athirapally, looking for wild animals. It was a day’s trek; we slept amid rocks under the sky with the forest for company. We cooked in the open , drank water from the jungle stream…it was a beautiful experience. I didn’t get a single photo but it doesn’t matter.” It is the beauty of such experiences that draws her to wildlife photography and sustains it. “And it is definitely not money,” she adds.
Her first camera was a gift from her husband. It was the basic model aim-and-click variety. A voracious consumer of veteran photographer N.A. Nazeer’s writing, she fancied that kind of life – walking through forests and taking in the life there. Nazeer is her inspiration.
She attended a photo camp by him, at Chimmini Wildlife Sanctuary. Subsequently she attended two more and was hooked, not just by the photography but also the promise of time spent in the forest. She enjoys treks often in the company of photographer friends. “We get to spend more time in Kerala forests as opposed to those in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu or elsewhere. You get only a limited amount of time there and often, you might not find anything much within that time.” The denser foliage in our forests makes it more of a challenge compared to the other forests where it is sparse. “Getting a tiger here is like a Nobel Prize.”
Her guides during her initial journeys were Nazeer’s accounts of each forest. “I wanted to see if these were the forests that Nazeer’s eyes had seen. I was very curious.” She travels into the forest at least once a month.
There are many shots that excite her. But Seema would rather not focus just on the biggies – “I like to zoom in on the smaller creatures too, and I don’t just mean size-wise, in terms of importance too. Like, for instance, monkeys. They are so common and very rarely is the camera trained on them. But I like to shoot them, they have very expressive faces.”
There have been many memorable moments and shots these last five-odd years. Like for instance when she and fellow photographers came across a tiger on the drive from Wayanad to Bandipur. “We froze. It was the first time I was seeing tiger.” Then there was the time when she, her photographer friends and a forest department official were travelling near Parambikulam that a Black Panther jumped across the jeep. Since she is part of trekking-photo expeditions, she says, taking the help of forest officials is advisable. They would be familiar with the forest and it’s safer that way.
While on safety, the inevitable question is about being a woman in what is essentially a man’s profession. “You have to take care of your safety. There is no point in taking unnecessary risks, but being confident is of utmost importance.”
That confidence propels the photographer in her to go that extra mile, like what she did at the Tadoba National park, Maharashtra. Over days the promise of a tiger sighting didn’t materialise and she and her photographer friends decided to return home. “We heard that there had been a sighting, I ditched all plans of returning and went back into the reserve with a friend to shoot the tigers.”
Seema is part of Thrissur-based Photo Muse, an organisation of photographers, and works with budding photographers.
Jim Corbett, the Himalayas, Sikkim and a trip to Meeshapulimala feature in her immediate plans. What about those abroad, like for instance Masai Mara? “You get everything there. What is the fun in that?”
Taken from The Hindu