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IN CONVERSATION

All creatures great and small

K. Jayaram is a macro-photographer who believes great creatures come in small sizes. Pankaja Srinivasan

Photos: K. Ananthan and K.Jayaram

Nature photographer: Jayaram’s photos of the Malabar Gliding

A GREEN bug and her eggs won the battle against giant African elephants, and K. Jayaram got his first taste of success in the realm of international photography (a gold medal in an international exhibition of photography at Los Angeles in 1978). Anot her entry — of a scorpion relaxing with moulting young ones on her back — won him the silver. He was the only one to submit pictures of small creatures for the competition. All other entries were of big animals. Reason enough for the man to love what the uninformed inelegantly call the ‘creepy crawlies’.

Today, he is well known in the world of entomology and taxonomy, so much so that a species of a jumping spider has been named after him: the Myrmarachne jayaramani. He has received international honours that included the celebrated Associate of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (ARPS) and Excellence in International Federation of Photographic Arts (EFIAP). International organisations consult him on matters of flora and fauna, and his pictures and information feature in hundreds of books, journals and institutions.



Frog

Jayaram wears his love for the great outdoors on his walls. A black and white photograph of an elephant greets you first. It is signed by B.N.S. Deo, the Maharaja of Korea (a small principality in present day Chattisgarh) and the first Indian to be Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. Elsewhere, there are exquisite hand-painted butterflies dating back to 1827, and bird- painter Basil Ede’s beautiful works. Photographs taken by his ‘heroes’ — fellow lensmen such as T.N.A. Perumal, B.N.S. Deo and M.Y. Ghorpade --occupy pride of place. Jayaram says: “These three were the reason I took up photography. They inspired and encouraged me.”

Beginnings

Jayaram — who has been published in The Sanctuary magazine, The BBC Wildlife magazine, The New Scientist magazine, Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopaedia and Kew Gardens P ublication — says his love affair with wild things goes back a while. “My father was posted in Shillong, and it is difficult for anyone who has been in the north-east to be indifferent to Nature,” he smiles. He would go around with a magnifying glass, “fascinated by the macro world”.

A gift of an Agfa Box Camera clinched the matter. He became a compulsive photographer. Anything and everything that came his way was photographed. And, since ‘shooting’ insects was inexpensive, he decided to make that his speciality. “It is an unlimited species,” says Jayaram, “and available night and day”. He has painstakingly studied, photographed, catalogued and classified his findings. He has an astonishing collection of slides/pictures of flora and fauna running into thousands. His works find a place in The Natural History Museum London, BBC Television, American Entomological Society, etc.



Nymph ‘Shield Bugs’ feeding on a Tortoise Beetle

“An ordinary subject can be turned into a very good picture,” says Jayaram and, indeed, the spiders, frogs, flies and caterpillars never looked so riveting. “Have you seen a hostile praying mantis?” asks Jayaram, and shows a picture of a snarling creature. In contrast is the slender iridescently coloured damsel fly, as she delicately feeds off a flower.

A bright blue caterpillar looks psychedelic with a geometric pattern down its back, but it has mean-looking poisoned stings covering it. “Hornbills love them; they pick up these caterpillars and smack them against a tree to rid them of the bristles, and then eat them,” says Jayaram. You know frogs are special to him as he gazes fondly at their picture and explains what kind of an amphibian they are.

There is the Malabar Gliding Tree Frog looking remarkably like Kermit and an army of other frogs. (Jayaram says photographing frogs is challenging. They are usually found during the monsoons, at night, move very fast, and the shine on their skin doesn’t help as it reflects light; worse still, since it is humid and wet, the camera lenses get all fogged up). Despite the odds, Jayaram has acquired a formidable reputation as a frog man; there is talk of some species of frogs also being named after him.

Enviable collection

Jayaram is currently cataloguing his enviable collection of pictures and nature books. He shows us heart-stopping photographs featured in the books brought out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Not only that his photographs feature in the prestigious publication too). A book of spectacular wildlife paintings by Canadian painter Robert Bateman is next. He has had his share of thrills with the big ones of the jungle; he has photographs of tigers, serpents, elephants and sambar.

But, says Jayaram, the nearly invisible creatures to the naked eye are the backbone of the eco-system. “If these creatures go on strike even for a day, the world will come to a grinding halt.”

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