You could call him a wildlife photographer, but Bangalore-based Sandesh Kandur, 36, dislikes the tag. A self-taught biologist, Sandesh explains why, “People know me as a wildlife photographer but the title completely overshadows a large part of my work which is of being a people photographer. To me, in the end it’s about capturing images that tell a story and images of people make for great stories.”
The film-maker and photographer that he is, Sandesh uses his skills to narrate stories and propagate the message of wildlife conservation. This year in April, his photograph of small foxes at play from little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, won in the Wildlife Category of Nature’s Best Photography Magazine. Sandesh was also honoured with the North American Nature Photography Association’s 2013 Vision Award.
Sandesh has been photographing wild animals for more than 15 years. But unlike many wildlife photographers, who “don’t photograph people,” Sandesh tries to keep the connection alive between people and animals. “Earlier this year, I was out on several shoots for Incredible India and this made me reconnect with telling stories of people through portraits,” he says.
It isn’t just animals that Sandesh photographed, but the inhabitants too, such as the lesser-known Milang tribe of Nagaland and the Apatani tribal women, among others.
He also received the BBC Wildlife Camera-trap Photo of the Year 2012. Sandesh plays down the dangers of his trade, but you do not become the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year (2010)without getting in close.
“There have, no doubt, been very close heart-stopping encounters with large animals like elephants, buffalos, rhinos and tigers. Shooting a wildlife documentary anywhere in the world is not an easy task. One has to always be prepared, be patient and have the passion and perseverance to capture the story,” he says. He shares his favourite memory. “Sighting a leopard whilst sitting on a tree on a full-moon night was an amazing experience.”
Apart from his work that captures the beauty of the eco-system that is now under threat, Sandesh has also co-authored two books with scientist Dr Kamal Bawa for the green cause.
His first book, Sahyadris: India’s Western Ghats, A Vanishing Heritage (2005) was a well-received coffee-table book which highlighted the need to conserve an endangered mountain ecosystem. The second Himalaya: Mountains of Life (2013) wove breathtaking images with nuggets of information on the Eastern Himalayas.
Sandesh and Bawa spent five years in the Eastern Himalayas documenting not only the bio-diversity but also the people and their relationship with the landscape. “Putting together the two books took a lot of effort no doubt and probably marks something along the lines of achievement,” says Sandesh, who is the director at Felis Creations, a media and visual arts company based in Bangalore.
From behind his camera, Sandesh sees the world differently. For a wildlife photographer, it is important not to be tied down to a script, he believes.
“In travel photography, unlike in other forms of photography, you as a photographer are not in charge of the situation. Situations unfold, you are there to witness and make the most compelling visual image from what happens. You can’t direct your subjects,” he points out.
Sandesh’s series of short films, North-Eastern Diaries, was nominated for the Green Oscars at Bristol, UK, in 2010.
Photography was a passion he chose to follow, says Sandesh. “As a child, I grew up being fascinated by insects, ants and pets. The transition from photography being a hobby to turning into a profession was a very blurred one and I can’t put a finger on exactly when this happened. I suppose it has been over 15 years now. The rest, as they say, is history,” he smiles.
“Being on a shoot is tough work. You wake up at 3.30am and go on non-stop till about an hour before midnight, sometimes for weeks. You wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t love it,” he says.
And the adventurer has spotted some unique fauna as well on his sojourns, such as the twin-spotted frog, the green rat snake, an atlas moth with a 12-inch wing span, golden langurs and the Arunachal Macaque simian that was discovered recently.
The Naga tales
● The image (on left below) shows the inside of a kitchen in Nagaland where one can study the entire biodiversity of the state.
● “In June 2011, our team was in the village of Shatuza when news of a clouded leopard pelt came in. We drove to the little hamlet of Zipu. The village head proudly brought out the half-rotting pelt of a clouded leopard. He said he shot the animal during the ‘no-hunting’ season. He shot it, not to eat it or in self-defence, but simply because it was there— a very natural thing to do in these parts. Skins and skulls of various rarely seen species are part of decor in the kitchens’ of many Naga tribes, the best place to do a faunal biodiversity inventory,” says Sandesh.