“I was very happy with the binoculars in my hand. As a child I have chased butterflies, climbed trees, I grew up in a very very very green suburb of Navi Mumbai called Panvel, seeing wild bores, fireflies in the balcony,” says 23-year-old Wildlife Photographer Aishwarya Sridhar.

Aishwarya Sridhar is the first Indian woman to win at Wildlife Photographer of the Year. She received a commendation from the National Museum of History, London. About the award, she says, “Basically they have an annual competition every year, which is called the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, you have top wildlife photographers from the globe taking part. Amateurs, professionals this year over 50, 000 entries were received from 80 countries.” Her image was part of the top hundred awarded images.

She was just 11 when she first locked eyes with a tiger in the wild and that was a game-changer. She adds, “I literally fell head over and heals in love with jungle.” And then “I got a point and shoot camera for my 12th birthday and that became my best toy.”

Watch Aishwarya Sridhar Speak to SheThePeople

About Lights of Passion

The photograph is titled ‘Lights of Passion’ and features fireflies. On the choice of the topic, she says, “Somewhere I have always been a person who has always enjoyed reading about Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. For me, fireflies have always been a fascinating subject. As a child, I remember seeing them in the balcony. So, when I became a wildlife photographer, and last year the opportunity presented itself, I went along.”

Sridhar is also the youngest and first girl to receive the Sanctuary Asia ‘’Young Naturalist Award’’ in 2011. To which she says, “I was a teenager then, receiving that award really made me feel that I am in the right direction, I knew yes, I want to pursue this as my career.”

She looks up to the works of Rathika Ramasamy, Kalyan Varma, Latika Nath, filmmaker Ashwika Kapur for her debut film which won the green Oscar as inspiration.

Telling stories of conservation

Not just a wildlife photographer, Sridhar is an activist too. She says, “I use my photographs as a medium to tell stories of conservation. Photography is a powerful tool which I use to influence people and make them fall in love with nature and at the same time inspire them to act and raise their voices to protect our wildlife. I have actively used photography to save the wetland around Mumbai. When it comes to wetlands it somehow gets categorised as wasteland and thus are not given important ecological status. So, when it comes to allocating land the first one to go are the wetlands.”

Pandemic is a point where nature has said enough is enough

Sridhar believes “a picture can save the natural world”, so how does she read the pandemic as an environmentalist? She agrees that financially it has taken a toll, tourism is on the verge of collapse. She says, “For me, the pandemic is a point where nature has said enough is enough. We can bear only so much. The illegal wildlife trade has been rampant for so many years in different parts of the world. The way we treat wildlife pangolins, bats, crocodiles, snakes and ocean marine creatures is sad. Illegal trade is a booming industry and if you look at the statistics illegal animal trade is perhaps after the illegal drug trade. When we go about killing wildlife without paying a thought this is how nature pays us back.”

Do you think women are more eco-friendly than men?

Sridhar disagrees adding, “I don’t think it is gender-specific. That said wildlife photography is a highly male-dominated and that is because of the societal perception that women can’t do outdoor jobs. But that said, I don’t know whether being environmentally conscious comes more to women than men maybe the fact that we play an active role in running the house maybe are more conscious about the choices we make. I think it is a personal choice.”

Wildlife photography is a highly male-dominated world, so has she faced any discrimination? Or did she ever get mansplained? She says she has been lucky, but when she was younger she “used to have a very big lens, and at that time I was relatively shorter than what I am now. I have overheard people saying, “The lens is as big as you are can you carry that lens? Or if you lift it will you fall? Can you take pictures with it?”

On balancing her Personal and Professional Life

Sridhar believes, “We (women) can juggle both. Just like a 9 to 5 job requires commitment so does this. If you ask me I get more time to spend at home when I am between projects. This is more flexible.”

Importance of female role models

She says, “When you look at the achievements of women in different fields, it helps. As a girl, it is drilled in you that you can do XXX and can’t do Z because you are a girl. It is not accepted by society, whereas you look up to someone who has broken those glass ceilings or barriers then definitely you also get inspired to do those things.”

To young women who want to take up wildlife photography Sridhar says,

Sridhar says “First, don’t let your gender ever come in the way of achieving your dreams you are as much as an equal to a man and you can achieve the same what he can do. Second, all girls out there who want to be wildlife photographers learn the craft when you learn the craft well you can be as creative as possible on the field.” And finally she says, “Be safe when you are outdoors. Be cautious and be aware.”

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