“I want to document wild landscapes that are warping due to urbanization,” says award-winning nature photographer K. Jayaram and starts the conversation. “Trees have been felled to make way for roads and shopping malls, quarries and real estate have devastated natural resources in significant ways. I want to document beautiful landscapes that once existed and educate the public.
Insects to Infinity, by Mahesh of Mayanz’s YouTube Channel, features Jayaram’s five-decade journey into nature photography along with some of his best images of butterflies, insects, frogs, mammals, birds. and landscapes. Interviews with people who have known Jayaram throughout his journey add insight into the multifaceted nature of his work and his expertise as an ecologist, naturalist and entomologist.
Watch: “Endless insects”:
“He has known the light for over half a century,” says his friend S Anand of the Konangal Film Society. “His sense of light gives the impression of a painting.” Press photographer Mr Satyamoorthy recalls his outings with Jayaram in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Mukurthi National Park in the Nilgiris. “In Moyar Gorge, he clicked on two dozen landscape photos. Each photo was a masterpiece. Jayaram has printed over 50 landscape photographs he took in places such as Kabini, the Nilgiris, Silent Valley, Bharatpur Shrine, and Chambal Valley on archival matte paper imported from Germany. This adds artistic value to the photographs and ensures them a lifespan of 100 years.
Sathyamoorthy specifically mentions Jayaram’s photo of the full moon captured from the patio of his house. “His photos have an innate quality that makes you fall in love with nature and end up becoming an environmentalist. The photographs are scientifically accurate and have an artistic appeal.
Following Jayaram has been a great learning experience, says Mahesh, who started documenting films about Coimbatore as a pandemic project, says, “We have improved the documentary genre by leaps and bounds in terms of technology and storytelling with better camera and sound equipment. We’ve made over 20 films about the city’s vintage theaters, the rock art of the Nilgiris, Kovanputhur and Kumitipathi, and about Coimbatore writers including Kovai Gnani, CR Raveendran, Puviarasu, Jeeva and KaVai Palanisamy.
Jayaram got his first camera at the age of 14 in 1962. “It was an Agfa Synchro Box camera,” Jayaram explains. “He was using 120 rolls of film and you can take eight exposures. I took portraits of my family, temples, architecture … Nature photography was unknown at the time.
He learned to develop negatives by reading Kodak books. “I used to read a lot about science, technology, and photography in international magazines that I picked up from the Moor Market in Chennai. I used to darken the bathroom and do the treatment myself. Since there was no fridge, I bought pieces of ice to have ice water to process the film at 18 degrees. I even designed 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 commissioned an optician to make a one-diopter spectacle lens, which he mounted on his camera for close-ups. His photograph of a pentatomid bug laying eggs and a scorpion with its young, taken with this spectacle lens, won him the gold and silver medals at the International Photography Show in Los Angeles in 1974. “I only submitted pictures of insects, about 24 of them, all shot in Coimbatore. Beetles, grasshoppers, an insect feeding on a caterpillar, a spider with a butterfly, etc.
Jayaram was honored with the ARPS (Associate of The Royal Photographic Society, UK) in 1978, and another International Honor AFIAP (Artist of the International Federation of Photographic Art, Europe) in 1983 and the Master Honor EFIAP (Excellence in the International Federation of Photographic Art, Europe) in 1986, a rare distinction and many others.
Going into the forest at the time was not an expensive undertaking, recalls Jayaram. He hitchhiked with friendly logging truck drivers or used trained elephants for transport. He explored the forests of Satyamangalam, Thimbam and Mysore with TNA Perumal, who inspired a generation of conservationists, naturalists and photographers in wildlife photography and conservation.
Jayaram first ventured into the colorful little world of insects with a primitive camera. “I always had a magnifying glass with me. It was fascinating to see the close-ups of a blade of grass or flowers. I wanted to try them out with a camera.
He explored entomology, botany, and taxonomy when faced with the task of giving scientific names. He obtained exhaustive volumes on the flora and fauna of India, especially colonial era volumes on the fauna of British India. “There are 49 volumes on insects alone,” says Jayaram, whose images of insects are scientifically identified and cataloged. Over the past 40 years, his images and writings have been published in international journals, magazines, books, encyclopedias, and televised conferences on taxonomy, botany, entomology, and natural history. The book, Some butterflies from South India(Krab Media and Marketing), of which he is a co-author, was a precursor to field guides on wildlife, he says.
For the past two decades he has photographed and researched frogs with SD Biju. “We were able to discover many new frogs from the Western Ghats. SD Biju published 12 new findings in a single article for Nature. One of the species, Raorchestes jayarami, a blue-green frog from the Western Ghats was named after Jayaram. A jumping spider also bears his name, the Myrmarachne jayaramani.
Jayaram’s transition to the digital platform has gone smoothly. Now he uses a Nikon digital camera. “You have to create a photograph. It is a mixture of art and science where you have to apply technique and ideas. You must visualize the final image. You have to plan, anticipate, wait for good lighting and composition, then click at the right time to produce an exceptional image.