The Tiger Moms

What does it take to photograph wildlife differently? This book has some answers

Written by Ranjit Lal | Published: February 10, 2018 12:38:35 am
A Decade with Tigers by Shivang Mehta

Title: A Decade with Tigers
Author: Shivang Mehta
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Pages: 360
Price: Rs 1,750

Since the dawn of the digital era in photography, there has been a massive increase in the number of tiger images on social media. Everyone and anyone vies to capture the great striped cat in its natural habitat. As a result, in national parks and tiger reserves, tigers are often ‘gheraoed’ by dozens of Gypsies, each jammed to the gills with excited photographers armed with big lenses, firing away 10 frames per second, completely oblivious to the fact that every one of them would have captured more or less identical images.

The plethora of coffee table books on tigers (and other wildlife) that have been published in recent years, too, have made one immune to their charms. So what is it that is needed to make one pause as one flips through the glossy pages, and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute!’ and look more closely?

Shivang Mehta, a former public relations professional, has stepped away from the herd and spent the last 15 odd years, following and photographing remarkable tiger moms and their families, powerful ruling males as well as sundry wildlife in the forests of India. The journey has taken him to Bandavgarh, Pench, Ranthambore, Corbett, Tadoba, and Kanha, among other places. This book is a photographic tribute to some of those formidable tiger moms, their powerful consorts and spirited families.

Mehta has outlined three main elements in wildlife photography which work to make an outstanding image. The first is the science of photography, the second, creativity, and the third, an awareness of aspects of natural history. The photographer must use and work with the first and second, in a “never-ending learning process”, and, as you check out the pictures, you can see that Mehta has clearly done so: While most of us would be happy just clicking madly at any tiger we may encounter, Mehta has experimented using tricky spotlighting (sunbeams dappling through the forest canopy), shutter speed (slow to blur movement), wide-angle (to give a sense of space and place), ultra-close ups and even abstraction, with results to show for it.

He has also followed and documented the lives of ‘celebrity’ tiger families — especially outstanding tiger-moms who have successfully raised litters year after year (Collarwali from Pench had 26 cubs in total!), and recounted their stories. There have been great tragedies (the battles of Vijaya in Bandhavgarh), torrid romances, family feuds and unexpected dynamics in the lives of these tigers. Mehta recounts the remarkable tale of Zalim, a male from Ranthambore who brought up his two orphaned cubs after their mother died, something hitherto unheard of in tiger society. There is also the sad tale of Ustad, the male from Ranthambore now in an enclosure in Udaipur after being condemned for killing a forest guard, and who Mehta mentions as one of the “gentlest” tigers he has known. One of the most remarkable sequences of pictures is of an inexperienced young tiger, Pacman, struggling to take down a chital — he took 30 minutes to do so.

Wildlife photography takes an enormous amount of patience and perseverance, the ability to be at the right place at the right time (which comes more from experience than just blind luck), and Mehta has shown he has all three by doggedly following his subjects for days on end.

While there is a section on some of the other denizens of the Indian jungles, I wish there had been more of these to emphasize the fact that tigers do not live in isolation. As a people, most of us are tiger obsessed, and, unfortunately, on visits to parks and reserves, do not wish to see anything except the tiger.

While this book is an excellent ode to the tiger, let’s hope Mehta will now train his lenses on some of the other denizens in our jungles — in just the same way he has done for the tiger.

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird-watcher

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