A woman’s loneliness is hers alone, especially when the want is a child. But instead of mourning her plight, 35-year-old Seema Suresh picked up a camera. Eleven years into her marriage, Seema switched careers from journalism to photography and traded her isolation in the city for the solitude of forests.
Before Seema, it was difficult to imagine a woman as a wildlife photographer in Kerala. “There were instances in the past when I felt belittled by the people around me because my husband and I couldn’t conceive a child. When I come to think of it today, it was the best thing that happened to me,” she says.
Seema is a pioneer of sorts: the first woman wildlife photographer from Kerala. Whereas she sought solitude in the wild, the forests inspired her. She picked up the camera after her first trip to the jungles of Bandipur in Karnataka three years ago. Employed as a film journalist with a leading Malayalam daily, she quit her job in 2011 to pursue photography full time. “The first time I ventured into the forests, I was mesmerised by the greenery and the wildlife. Although I did not take any photographs then, I knew I wanted to return and explore the forests further,” she says.
But the freedom to pursue her passion came at a cost. “Many men still can’t accept the fact that I trek and stay in the forests for several days at a stretch. People began questioning my character and spread salacious gossip about me.” Three years later, Seema has moved on and doesn’t get ruffled by the murmurs about her
“My photographer husband has been my biggest support through all this,” she says, “He encouraged me to pick up the camera and helped me realise the advantages of not having a child.”
In her three years in the jungles, she has clicked an impressive portfolio. Her images offer an intimacy seldom seen in mainstream wildlife photography in India. Her work is interspersed with themes of her own existential struggle. Most of her pictures have the elements of romance, motherhood and mischief in them. For instance, she captioned the photograph of an Indian robin, resting on a pole looking into the wilderness: “I have died everyday waiting for you”.
“Not being able to conceive a child played on my mind for a while. But today, I think of my camera as my child. It opened me to a world that I was unaware of. Now, I dream of tigers and animals. The other day I dreamed of a tiger sitting on my grandfather’s bed,” she says.
Currently, Seema is busy trekking through several forests in south India. A hectic travel schedule has not made her weak but even more energetic. “It needs extraordinary passion and patience to be a successful wildlife photographer. But if you start enjoying the process, you will learn the secrets behind several ‘mysteries’ of nature,” she says.
Seema is clear that she will use her skills to achieve the larger goal of conservation. “It was from my father, who was a farmer, that I grasped the significance of conserving nature. Later, my interactions with eminent wildlife photographer MA Naseer convinced me that my first love is wildlife photography. I want to show the world what we stand to lose,” she adds.
Seema says that she will be the happiest person on the planet if more talented and committed youth took to wildlife photography. With her sights set on capturing more splendid frames, especially elephants, she is also prepared to take the regressive mindsets head on.