CHENNAI: Conservation is a prominent leitmotif in the 21st Century, with most of our dialogue revolving around nature and the need to promote its interests. However, ‘conservation communication’ is a term not many people use. It involves engaging society and especially the youth, educate them and create awareness about the field. It truly takes a pioneer to dedicate himself to such a noble cause from a young age and K Ramnath Chandrasekhar did just that!
A professional nature photographer and filmmaker, 27-year-old Ramnath is already a veteran in the field of nature conservation. Close on the heels of winning yet another award for nature and conservation photography at the recent International Camera Fair, City Express caught up with him for a quick chat on what drives his passion.
“I was always enthralled by nature. Even during my school days I used to explore scrub jungles in my hometown and bottle specimens to show my schoolmates,” says Ramnath. His passion grew after he was gifted a Nikon F55 camera by his father and since then there’s been no looking back!
Ramnath has travelled the length and breadth of India on several photography and filmmaking assignments, from the snow-capped ranges of the Himalayas to the green belts of the Western Ghats, to capture nature in all its beauty and diversity.
However, rather than sticking to nature photography, he was also inspired to use his skills to advocate for a better education programme that can raise awareness among youth. It was this that prompted him to start Youth For Conservation (YFC), a non-profit organisation, along with acclaimed wildlife and conservation filmmaker Shekar Dattatri, to enhance awareness on environment conservation in India.
“You have to be truthful about what you say and speak with passion and conviction; only then will children be inspired to get involved. Photography and filmmaking are the two media I use to connect children to nature and conservation, while also working with educationists to create teaching pedagogies that facilitate deeper learning of nature, environment and conservation,” he explains.
YFC today uses photostories, storytelling and nature documentaries aimed at school children to further its aim.
The education process depends on the age group of the children involved and their upbringing, adds Ramnath. “The approach varies when you are teaching children studying in cities to those in towns and villages. Apart from film screenings, we use interactive activities, games and role plays. For example, I am working with an international school on a six-month initiative in which children work towards solving social problems using storytelling and design thinking. The process involves the children learning to see a problem and finding various ways to solve it,” he says.
Ramnath is constantly innovating to come up with new ways of increasing outreach on conservation education. “YFC designed a conservation education module using natural history documentaries, films and photostories to conduct a pilot programme called ‘The Planet and You’, and 27 schools participated. My team and I went to these schools, and spent one day a month for six months to engage with students. We’re working towards scaling this programme to a lot more schools and develop a nature education model using student participation.”
He is also all praise for his collaborator Shekar Dattatri, with whom he has worked on several projects. “His critique and feedback shaped my nature photography skills. It’s because of his inspiration I decided to contribute to conservation using my skills. During 2014-15, I worked on a few conservation documentaries with him as an assistant producer and editor. Those two years of learning the medium of conservation filmmaking is something I will always remember and reflect upon. The most memorable was a recent documentary project called ‘Race to save the Amur Falcon’.”