“I want to document wild landscapes that are getting distorted due to urbanisation,” says award-winning nature photographer K.Jayaram and starts the conversation. “Trees have been felled to make way for roads and malls, quarrying and real estate have ravaged natural resources in a big way. I want to document beautiful landscapes that once existed and educate the public.”
Insects to Infinity, by Mahesh of Mayanz YouTube Channel showcases Jayaram’s five-decade journey in nature photography as well as some of his best images of butterflies, insects, frogs, mammals, birds and landscapes. Interviews of people who have known Jayaram through his journey add insight to the multi-faceted nature of his work and his expertise as an ecologist, naturalist, and entomologist.
Watch: ‘Insects to Infinity’:
“He knew light for over half a century,” states his friend S Anand of Konangal Film Society. “His light sense give the feel of a painting.” Press photographer M.Sathyamoorthy recalls his outings with Jayaram at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Mukurthi National Park in the Nilgiris. “At Moyar Gorge, he clicked two dozen photos of landscapes. Every single photo was a masterpiece.” Jayaram has printed over 50 landscape photographs that he shot in locations such as Kabini, the Nilgiris, Silent Valley, Bharatpur Sanctuary and the Chambal Valley on archival museum matte paper imported from Germany. This adds artistic value to the photographs and ensures it lasts for 100 years.
Sathyamoorthy particularly mentions Jayaram’s photo of the full moon captured from his house terrace. “His photos have an innate quality that make you fall in love with nature and eventually turn a conservationist. The photographs are scientifically accurate and have an artistic appeal.”
Following Jayaram has been a great learning experience, says Mahesh who started documenting films on Coimbatore as a pandemic project, says, “We have improved the documentary genre by leaps and bounds in terms of technology and narration with better camera and sound equipment. We have made over 20 films on vintage theatres in the city, rock art of the Nilgiris, Kovanputhur, and Kumitipathi, and on writers from Coimbatore including Kovai Gnani, CR Raveendran, Puviarasu, Jeeva and KaVai Palanisamy.
Jayaramgot his first camera, when he was 14 years old in1962. “It was an Agfa Synchro Box camera,” says Jayaram. “It used 120 roll film and you can take eight exposures. I took portraits of my family, temples, architecture…Nature photography was unheard of then.”
He learnt to develop negatives by reading Kodak books. “I used to read up a lot on science and technology and photography from international magazines that I got from Moor Market in Chennai. I used to darken the bathroom and do the processing myself. As there were no fridges, I bought chunks of ice to have ice cold water to process the film at 18 degrees. I even devised my own contact print frame, sandwiching the negative and the paper between glass plates.”
He won his first photography competition in 1963. The prize was Agfa Click-III. In 1969 he got an optician to make a one diopter spectacle lens, which he fit on his camera for close ups. His photograph of a pentatomid bug laying eggs and a scorpion with its young ones, shot with that spectacle lens won him the International Salon of Photography’s gold and silver medals at Los Angeles in 1974. “I submitted only insect pictures, about 24 of them, all shot in Coimbatore. Beetles, grasshopper, a bug feeding on a caterpillar, spider with a butterfly, and so on…”
Jayaram was honoured with ARPS (Associate of The Royal Photographic Society, UK) in 1978, and another International Honour AFIAP (Artiste of the International Federation of Photographic Art, Europe ) in 1983 and the Master Honour EFIAP (Excellency in the International Federation of Photographic Art, Europe) in 1986, a rare distinction and many more.
Going into the forest those days was not an expensive business, recalls Jayaram. He would hitch ride with friendly timber truck drivers, or use trained elephants for transport. He explored the Satyamangalam, Thimbam and Mysore forests with TNA Perumal, who inspired a generation of conservationists, naturalists and photographers into wildlife photography and conservation.
Jayaram first ventured into the colourful and small world of insects with a primitive camera. “I always carried a magnifying lens with me. It was fascinating to see the close ups of a blade of grass or flowers. I wanted to try these with camera.”
He explored entomology, botany and taxonomy when faced with the task of giving scientific names. He procured exhaustive volumes on the flora and fauna of India, especially colonial era volumes of Fauna of British India. “There are 49 volumes on insects alone,” says Jayaram whose insect pictures are scientifically identified and catalogued. Over the last 40 years his pictures and writings have been published in international journals, magazines, books, encyclopaedias and TV talks on taxonomy, botany, entomology and natural history. The book, Some South Indian Butterflies(Krab Media and Marketing), which he co-authored, was a forerunner to wildlife field guides, he says.
For the last two decades, he has been photographing and researching frogs with SD Biju. “We were able to discover many new frogs from the Western Ghats.” SD Biju has published 12 new discoveries in a single paper for Nature. One of the species, Raorchestes jayarami, a bluish-green frog of Western Ghats has been named after Jayaram. A jumping spider also carries his name, the Myrmarachne jayaramani.
Jayaram’s transition to the digital platform was smooth. Now, he uses a Nikon digital camera. “A photograph has to be created. It is a mix of art and science where you have to apply technique and ideas. You have to visualise the final image. You need to plan, anticipate, wait for proper lighting and right composition, and then click at the right moment to produce an outstanding picture.”