Archive for the ‘Published Work’ Category
In the last several months I have had the opportunity to have two important portfolios of black & white images published in prominent Indian publications. In September the Indian Quarterly published a photo essay on sholas in the Western Ghats entitled “Spirit Mountains.” This collection of images and a short text grew out of an online conversation with Suprarba Seshan who was looking for images to accompany her article “People of the Rain” article that appears the same issue. Her article went on to be illustrated Diba Siddiq who is also associated with the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, while I was allotted ten pages for the shola story. The issue is focused on rain and also includes a story about Agumbe by our prolific writer friend Janaki Lenin. Avtar Singh, the managing editor based in New Delhi, played a key role in pulling it all together. The images, all black & white, were chosen to illustrate the aesthetic themes of rain and diversity as seen in the sholas of the southern Western Ghats.
This month Frontline has just published “Plantation Paradox” a photo essay accompanying my rambling exploration of the complications of non-native timber plantations in the Palani Hills. The Chennai-based magazine is part of the larger Hindu publications group-known for their reasoned, somewhat left-leaning reporting and support of secular, multicultural India. The pictures in this story are also all black & white and closely illustrate themes from the 3000+ word article. The article includes a version of the GIS-generated map (utilizing 30m SRTM USGS/NASA tiles) that I worked on earlier this year. It illustrates the 1,500m contour (shola/grassland areas) in the southern Western Ghats. Vijayasankar Ramachandran, the editor at Frontline was my contact who made this publication possible. We have worked together on several past articles that explored themes of conservation and ecology in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. In particular several of my Frontline articles have focused on issues in Kodaikanal and the Palani Hills where changes in the ecology, pressure from tourism and ambiguity about the status of the conservation of remote hills has been in flux (see list & links below).
PALANI HILLS ECOLOGY/CONSERVATION ARTICLES IN FRONTLINE*
- 2012 April “Breathing Life Back into the Sholas”
- 2009 November “Fragile Heritage: Bombay Shola”
- 2006 August “Kurinji Crown”
- 2003 August “The Palni Hills: On the Danger List”
* There used to be web links for these but my understanding is that they are not active anymore.
Note: My spelling of Palani has evolved over time as seen in the title above. I previously used to use “Palni” (as in what is used by the PHCC). However, after talking with Tamil language experts and looking at changes in official documentation, I have adopted the widely accepted “Palani.” This is how the temple town, that the hills are named for, is spelt. For Kodaikanal, I continue to use “Kodai” while I have noted attempts by some individuals and publications to shorten this to “Kodi!”
In the year of 2013 the challenges faced by small hill stations and communities in India’s Western Ghats continued to multiply. The double-edged sword of tourism and development has brought both prosperity and ecological upheaval to these fragile areas. They were originally settled for their beauty and salubrious climates, but today they are besieged by issues of noise, solid waste, water shortages, poor governance and other concerns of sustainability. Kodaikanal, located in the Palani Hills of Tamil Nadu, has unfortunately become a case study in uncontrolled growth and lackluster management. Record numbers of tourists continue to visit this south Indian hill station (160,000 in one particular ten day period according to the Hindu). In the heart of the township that hosts these growing numbers of tourists is Kodaikanal International School. In its 112th year KIS continues to offer a global education based on the International Baccalaureate curriculum for students from South Asia and beyond. There is a strong spiritual foundation for this learning; something that I like to see as an agglomeration of its Christian missionary roots, India’s mosaic of faiths and something special, quite indefinable in the air.
As an alumnus who was shaped by experiences in the hills and school, I continue to stay involved with the school through its alumni association, Council of Directors and contact with friends who have given their professional lives to the school. This year it has been my privilege to help contribute to the school’s annual calendar. After a few initial suggestions from my side, the calendar was designed by the intrepid KISCO team (Sonny Deenadayalan, Judy Redder, Billy and others). I selected 13 different black & white panoramic images that highlight important ecological themes in the Palani Hills. The images are all digital panoramas and owe their final presentation to DSLRs and software rather than the wet darkrooms where I used to spend so much time. Calendars will be available from the KISCO office (located at the front gate of the school). I will also print a limited series of 40” long enlargements for spring art shows in Kodai and other locations.
Last year there were significant milestones and steps taken to recognize and protect India’s Western Ghats. In July 2012 a handful of sites up and down the 16,000 km length Ghats area were given the UNESCO World Heritage Tag. Previous to this the release of the lengthy and comprehensive Gadgil report (made public first in late 2011) by eminent scientists had stirred a spectrum of responses to the proposals to protect the areas ecology and landscapes. The negative perception from some government agencies and vested interest was such that another report was commissioned (the Kasturirangan panel)! The Western Ghats encompass an enormous and diverse ecological area that I’ve been fortunate to be intimately associated with and the news elicited a more personal reflection on what the area has meant to me.
My earliest memories are of walks and camping trips amongst clean, gurgling streams and cool sholas in the Palani Hills. Several years earlier, before my first memories and birthday, my parents had backpacked me through the rolling downs of the Brahmagiris on the Kerala/Karnataka border. As child and teenager growing up with an eclectic mix of American, Bengali, south Indian and global influences the mountains offered a unique opportunity for self-discovery, an appreciation of the interdependence nature and spiritual appreciation of the infinite. Since 1992, issues concerning ecology, landscape and human interaction in the Western Ghats have been the focus for my explorations, learning, photography and writing. These are passion pursuits that eventually became the focus of my life and teaching as I entered and became comfortable with a career in international education. In recent years my geographic focus has shifted to Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, cousins of the Western Ghats in so many ways, yet I maintain a strong interest in developments across the straits.
My response to the news and then the swirling controversy was to write something about it and this eventually found its ways into the pages of Sanctuary Asia, India’s preeminent wildlife magazine that was founded by Bittu Sahgal in the early 1980s. By the time the article came out this month (see screen shots below) the news was long forgotten but the issues of conservation, loss of biodiversity, water security, community rights and tourism development remain relevant and unresolved.
Following the UNESCO designation of the Western Ghats a World Heritage Site in July 2012 there were a series of informative pieces published friends and colleagues in the Indian media. On July 3rd the Hindu ran an editorial that highlighted the UNESCO announcement. Subraba Sehsan emphasized the challenges of living up to the new limelight of the UNESCO World Heritage listing in her article in the Hindustan Times on July 8th. Janiki Lenin wrote about the Western Ghats controversy in Outlook Traveller with a rich selection of images from Kalyan Varma. Organizations such as ATREE, the Nature Conservation Foundation, the French Institute in Pondicherry and WWF-India continue the important work of addressing conservation challenges from a scientific point of view. Others in organizations, such as Kalpavirksh, work to promote environmental sustainability and ensure that communities are empowered to participate in conservation decisions.
For a further exploration of my published work on the Western Ghats see the Published Work page on High Range Photography. In July 1994 I published my first significant photo-essay and article on the Western Ghats in the India Magazine (a publication that is now, sadly, defunct). I then spent several years researching, photographing and assembling pieces on the Nilgiri tahr, as an example of an endangered Western Ghats species. In 2001 I exhibited and gave lectures on the Western Ghats at the India International Centre and Bombay Natural History Society. In August 2003 I wrote about the Palani Hills in Frontline and advocated for a protected area to be designated in the range. The focus on the Palanis has been followed up with articles on ecological restoration in Sanctuary Asia (June 2006) and Frontline (April 2012). Both of these highlight the important work of the Vattakanal Conservation Trust in restoring native vegetation in the Palanis. For several years my wife Raina and I lived, worked and explored in the Sahyadris just outside of Pune. An account of this unique range of the (northern) Western Ghats was published in Sanctuary Asia (2005) and Man’s World (2004).
Asian Geographic (2008) and Geo (2009) have also published my photo essays and articles on the Western Ghats, which give a sense of the whole range from a visual and descriptive point of view. ARKive has a dedicated page on the Western Ghats and I was honored that they have profiled several of my color images (by way of the Nature Picture Library). In all of these efforts, my goal has been to paint a picture of the landscapes in black & white to illustrate the stark magnificence of landscapes, varied vegetation types, human interaction and conservation. I use color imagery to highlight aspects of the biodiversity-one of the two main reasons that the Western Ghats are vital (the other being water). The field of photography has changed in these last 20 years and I continue to work on the same themes using a variation of the early approach but in the digital medium. In the last five years I have become intrigued with spatial aspects of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot and am using GIS to explore, analyze and understand the landscape and its changes.
Just two weeks ago news emerged that the government of Tamil Nadu has designated the Palani (or Kodaikanal) Hills as one of four new protected areas in the state. This comes as welcome news, though it is yet to be seen what the exact boundaries are, how this will affect the significant human communities and activates (tourism, plantation agriculture etc.) and if restoration activities will be allowed within the protected area.
This year marks 20 years since the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that was signed by most countries. The continuing loss of biodiversity remains a pressing global concern of our times. At my regional level, Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats have been identified as “biodiversity hotpots” and it is worth reflecting on their unique biodiversity. An easy way to do this is through ARKive, one of the most dynamic sites highlighting biodiversity in the world. It is a fascinating project in its ninth year with support from Wild Screen and the patronage of Sir David Attenborough. It seeks to create a digital reference and archive of all the world’s known species. Each species is highlighted with images and text on status, description, range, habitat, threats etc.
I have been using ARKive’s digital archive as a reference in my teaching and writing for several years now. A few months ago I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across a special section focusing on the Western Ghats that features several of my color landscapes in a gallery on the habitat. Most of these were taken on forays into the Palani Hills and neighboring ranges in the 1990s. I also have some images of emblematic and lesser-known species (Nilgiri tahr, Large Scale Pit Vipers, Giant Grizzled Squirrels, Scaly Lizards, Bronzed Frogs, etc.). A little searching will uncover some familiar Sri Lankan species (SL Green Pit Viper).The pictures are supplied to ARKive though the Natural History Picture Library where I have been submitting pictures for some time.
In recent years my explorations in South Asia have brought me into close contact with the meteorological and metaphorical super-phenomenon of the monsoon. My focus areas of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka are both dramatically impacted by the South West (summer) and North East (winter) monsoons. The significance of these seasonal rains on the landscapes, ecosystems and cultures cannot be overstated. Water is at the heart of the issue. The connection between healthy natural forests in the hills, water and the wellbeing of human communities is a critical link. It is a theme that has been highlighted by conservationists in the Western Ghats for the past three decades.
I had an opportunity to visually explore these themes in the summer publication of the India International Centre’s IIC Quarterly. The twelve images are from my work in the Western Ghats between 1992 and 2010. A few of the pictures have been exhibited and published but there were several unpublished images in the photo-essay. The images emphasize natural landscapes and human elements have mostly been left out in this selection. The Quarterly carried essays by Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister of the Environment and a range of other notable writers and thinkers. I wrote a short essay on the monsoon to accompany the photographs. Here is a short excerpt from the beginning:
…In the summer months, as the earth’s axial tilt and trade winds shift, India impatiently awaits news of the arrival of the season of rain. Its timing, the predictions of its strength and how much water it will grant to farmers make the monsoon a rare geographic gem of interest to a wide segment of South Asia’s population. The heroes making these predictions are the atmospheric scientists and meteorologists of the Indian Meteorology Department. One imagines them pacing up and down the shores of Kovalam beach looking into the heavens for signs of the shift in weather patterns, though it is more likely that they are staring at computer monitors filled with satellite imagery and mathematical models in their offices in Pune. When it arrives, the monsoon comes after a long period of intense heat, paucity of food crops and general unhappiness amongst people living with the elements. The monsoon’s arrival is often dramatic bringing an explosive rush of gushing rainfall, cool relief and a revival of life to the region. It is metaphorically projected through the exuberant release of passion and erotic energy that are popularly choreographed in innumerable Bollywood dance sequences….