KOCHI: In architect and wildlife photographer Praveen P Mohandas’s eyes, the world is black and white. It comprises textures and variants behind the veils of monochrome play. For him, colour is superficial, deceiving the viewer and robbing them of the subject’s soul. Even though black and white frames are an uncommonly rare choice of format for wildlife photography, one which almost always focuses on the pristine colours of nature, Praveen’s Instagram profile @praveenpmohandas is a window to the psyche of wild animals.
This Thrissur-based artist has been involved with photography for the past 25 years, while also juggling his professional life as an architect. However, he ceased photographing travel, architecture and festivals ever since wildlife started interesting him, and it demanded an intense study of animals. “I set foot in the Bandipur National Park after I became a member of the Youth Photographic Society in Bengaluru. I started connecting with nature, and it became an escape route. I decided to solely focus on wildlife photography afterwards,” Praveen says.
A diploma in black and white photography may have proven to be advantageous for this photographer, but his complete focus on it was complemented by advancement in digital photography. “Years ago, photographers were restrained from predicting the output as the image processing would be completed by another person. This changed with digital photography. You could manipulate colours and textures. Moreover, nature photography could get repetitive. The power to alter a picture and create a distinct, artistic rendition led me to return to black and white photography.
I shoot in colour and convert it into monochrome. I began studying the nuances of the same, and it eventually became a style,” he says. Praveen strongly feels that unlike other genres, wildlife photography hasn’t progressed to a large extent. “Wildlife photographers are at the mercy of nature. Everyone seems to be aiming for National Geographic. But nature and wildlife photography should also be experimented with. Everyone knows a tiger’s appearance; the key is to make it expressive and experiment with concept-based photography,” he highlights.
Praveen’s continued probe led to ‘Kari’ that features Praveen’s photographs of the elephant, an animal he’s deeply connected to, owing to his roots in Thrissur. It was also a collaboration with his friend, an artist. “The concept was divided into three sections— ‘Body’ which depicts the largeness of the mammal, its peculiarities and how the pachyderm’s body acts as a shield; ‘Memories’ wherein their bonding between herds and families are visually portrayed and ‘Destiny’ which traces the journey of the animal to its end, which could be in a roadkill, car accidents, electric shocks or drought.
It ends with an installation which questions if the largest land mammal ought to be controlled by us or not,” explains Praveen. Most of the elephants pictured were shot at the Jim Corbett National Park, which he claims to have visited at least 22 times, and is clearly, a natural habitat for anyone wishing to photograph the animal in its true essence. Praveen’s tryst with black and white photography has made him transport the viewer into another world, a deeper sense and analyse, rather than the wow factor.
“We see everything in colour, we’re aware of the reality. But the moment we eliminate it, objects return to their original textural shape, their appearance determined by the light that falls on it,” he adds. This chiaroscuro effect elevates his pictures, creating a complete contrast to other wildlife photography images.