Indifference, aversion and fear are likely to be the reactions of the lay person to the sight of creepy crawlies. Only a few would consider photographing them. Come to think of it, it’s not an easy task. Imagine what it would entail to take pictures of insects and document their lives and life cycles! Definitely a job for an entomologist. However, armed with only his skills in photography and plain curiosity, S. Venkataraaman, a resident of Chennai, has made photo-documenting the world of insects his calling. So much so that it has earned him the moniker Poochi Venkat, poochi being the generic word for insects in Tamil. Today, Poochi Venkat is in the limelight with his first book: Insects — Guardians of Nature released this September.
Venkat’s foray into the world of insects began about 25 years ago with Dr S. Vijayalakshmi of the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS) assigning him the job of duplicating 200 slides of spiders. Dr Vijayalakshmi’s book Spiders – An Introduction kindled his interest in insects so much that it became a passion. The garden at his house became the laboratory for Venkat’s photographic pursuit of insects. It was a time when there were no digital cameras, no Internet and a roll of film had only 36 frames without any way to preview the pictures.
To photograph the insects, Venkat had to mimic the insect itself, creeping on the ground lying in wait for the right time to click. He also took in his stride the insect bites, stings and infections that went with the work. Venkat says that he owes his powers of observation to the farmers whom he met during his field studies. He acknowledges the support and encouragement of Forest Department officials and professors, too.
To photograph insects with today’s technology, Venkat uses DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon, specials macro lenses from Tamron and Zeiss, dedicated flash units from Nissin and macro accessories from Kenko, the operative word being ‘macro’. The pictures in Venkat’s book under review are brilliantly magnified, colourful and detailed, and makes the reader look at insects not in black and brown but in all their glorious colours.
Here are some interesting facts excerpted from the book: Insects evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. Beetles were most likely the first insects to pollinate flowers. Bugs consume only liquid food. Dragonflies even migrate across oceans. Some species of damselflies lay eggs underwater. The grasshopper’s jump can be twenty times its body length. Only four species of the cockroach are pests and the rest add nutrients to the soil through their waste; they can live up to a week with their head cut off. Attractive to look at and easy to rear, the Indian domino cockroach is popular as a pet in many parts of the world. Flies can live on the surface of crude oil. Long distance migration of butterflies takes place over many generations and no single butterfly completes the full journey.
Moths have much more spectacular form and colour than butterflies but are not noticed as they are nocturnal creatures. The Chalcid Wasp is only 0.319 mm, making it the world’s smallest insect. With their powerful sting and impressive appearance, wasps have many ships, aircraft and military vehicles named after them. Bees and ants belong to the same family and have a very efficient social structure and extensive communication methods. Termites evolved from ancestors of cockroaches; though they are called white ants they are not ants at all, and their nests have millions of individuals; Insects like grasshoppers, bees, ants are a tasty and nutritious snack for humans in countries like Mexico, China, Java, Indonesia, countries in South-East Asia and Africa.
Venkat has photographed and studied insects in Chennai, Parambikulam, Mangurda, Katol, Kolkata, Upper Shillong, Nainital, Kanha, Pench, Melghat, Rann of Kutch, Rampachodavaram, Dandeli, Kudremukh, Lonavla, Karjat and Guwahati among other places. Many insects are threatened by the destruction of forests, drying water bodies, pollution and loss of wetland habitats. On the brighter side, methods of conservation are being evolved to revive and sustain amazing insects.
Insects – Guardians of Nature, a bi-lingual (English and Tamil) offering, is for private circulation only. If you are keen to get a copy, visit www.kalamkriya.com.
(Reviewed by T.K. Srinivas Chari.)