Award-winning wildlife photographer Aishwarya Sridhar speaks about her journey, challenges

‘A picture worth a thousand words,’ a phrase true to Aishwarya Sridhar who writes soul-stirring stories with her camera.

The Mumbai-based 23-year-old girl, who bagged the highly commended award in Behaviour Invertebrate Category at the 56th Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 show organised by the Natural History Museum in London in October, recalls her magic moment.

“It was magical. Standing underneath a tree covered by fireflies from top to bottom was like standing in the world of Narnia. I never planned for the award. After I got the shot, I felt it might stand a good chance and hence decided to enter it,” she said in an interaction with Soho Deck.   

Lights of Passion’ fetched Aishwarya the ‘Highly Commended’ award at the 56th wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, 2020

Aishwarya had faced a lot of challenges, especially with her age and funding. “There have been many challenges. The lack of funding for my projects was a major one. There are no opportunities for sponsorship in India and when you are young, many people do not believe in you. So it’s difficult to find resources for your projects. Furthermore, being a girl, society does not view this as an ideal profession. Navigating the social stigmas can also be daunting,” the young photographer said. 

Aishwarya’s tryst with the wild is something that she cherishes and spending time in the wild is mesmerising. She said that every moment spent in the wild is memorable for her.

Aishwarya feels that she has one of the best jobs in the world where she gets to tell stories of the natural world to the people. 

Asked about her favorite moment, Aishwarya said: “It’s difficult to pick one, as there are so many that come to my mind but one of the most cherished would be watching a tigress train her cubs to hunt in the wild.”

Aishwarya loves working with tigers. She was 10 when she first saw a tiger in the wild. Her documentary ‘Tiger Queen of Taru’ traces the remarkable life of Maya, a wild Bengal tiger living in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. Aishwarya followed Maya since she was a sub-adult and this journey gave her a sneak peek into the life of this apex predator on the planet.

“Let’s not strip our forests of its stripes. The Tiger is a majestic and charismatic predator, we should protect its habitat and leave them alone so that they continue to roar in the future.”

Recalling the rare moment in the wild, the photographer said: “The entire experience was beautiful. I got a chance to witness some emotional moments in Maya’s life. I watched her become a queen mother and of course rule the most sought-after land in Tadoba. As a Ruler and mother, Maya has excelled in both. Watching her was like seeing an MBA class in the wild. It’s difficult to find a tigress that has redefined her wild genetics by displaying capabilities to strategies and think like a human. One of my most cherished moments was when I saw her training her cubs to hunt, not once but twice.”

Maya, the Royal Bengal Tiger

Tiger Queen of Taru was aired on National Geographic in April this year on the occasion of World Earth Day.

Aishwarya said she learned that big cats are capable of emotions just like humans and “we should not simply classify them as carnivores. They are equally capable of love and care.”

Aishwarya studied commerce till Class XII but then pursued mass media because she wanted to get trained in the art of filmmaking and storytelling aspects. After completing her education, she started volunteering for environment-related campaigns such as Kids for Tigers and Greenpeace India. She has also been a part of Sanctuary Asia’s children conservation programmes.

“My friends and family have always been supportive of my career choice. My family already knew I would select this before I even realised it myself,” the conservationist, who is a native of Palakkad in Kerala, said.  

“I have seen the destruction of wildlife habitats first hand so I decided to speak up to protect whatever we have left.”

Aishwarya, whose dad is a chartered accountant and mother a homemaker, aims to become one of the leading filmmakers and presenters from India. “I hope to tell stories that would inspire policy-level impact in wildlife conservation. I aspire to become one of the leading wildlife filmmakers and presenters from India. 

She admires ace photographers Dereck and Beverly Joubert and Thomas P Peschak. 

She urges the government to value natural capital as much as the GDP. She said, “if we lose our planet, we lose our life.”

Her message for budding photographers: “Do not let your gender come in between your dreams. Being a girl does not stop you from pursuing your career of choice. In the end, the gender of the photographer doesn’t matter, what matters is your skill.”