T.N.A. Perumal’s Reminiscences of a Wildlife Photographer narrates his life’s experiences. Sadly, his labour of love is yet to find a sponsor

Earlier this year, T.N.A. Perumal took a photograph of a tiger at the Ranthambore National Park. That was not the first close encounter with the wild for this 79-year-old. Perumal has over 50 years of experience with his camera, documenting flora and fauna across the country. His black-and-white photographs are held up as shining examples of technique and expertise, he is greatly respected in photography circles and has won many awards. He is soon to get a National Award for Lifetime Achievement in Wildlife Photography from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The soft-spoken photographer was recently in the city to judge a photo contest organised by Lakshmi Machine Works. “Good things are happening in photography. It was amazing how many participants and entries there were,” says Perumal. “Some of the photographs I saw were the kind we could not even dream of taking. Technology has given young photographers a great advantage.” Perumal recalls the pre-digital days and the laborious rituals of taking a photograph. “It cost a lot, and procuring a roll of film was as difficult as it was expensive. So, I would always put a lot of thought behind each photograph I took. Old habits die hard; even now, that thrift comes in the way. Maybe, that is why I am not such a prolific photographer,” he smiles.

Double-edged sword

But technology is an advantage that comes with responsibility, believes Perumal. Air brushing, morphing, touch-ups and digital manipulation don’t show the honest picture, the result is not an accurate depiction of the subject, he says. “A photograph has to be ‘true’; it has to be as you saw it. It has to have value as a documented piece of natural history. There should be no manipulation.”

Perumal is sad that in a country so rich in natural biodiversity, documentation is neglected. On his part, he has made significant contributions to books on India’s flora and fauna.

He cherishes his work with naturalists, entomologists and conservationists, all of whom he admires greatly. In his opinion, M. Krishnan is one of the greatest wildlife photographer/naturalists. Perumal has done tremendous work with enlarging and processing pictures for M. Krishnan’s spectacular coffee-table book The Eye in the Jungle, brought out after the writer passed away. Another of Perumal’s heroes is M.Y. Gorpade, wildlife enthusiast and prolific black-and-white photographer. “I was supposed to have shown Gorpade a sample of my book. But he passed away the very same day I was to take it to him,” he says, sadly.

Perumal’s book is called Reminiscences of a Wildlife Photographer and it is his way of acknowledging all those who made a difference to his life. A labour of love, Reminiscences… contains 300 of Perumal’s best photographs from the black-and-white days to colour and digital pictures. The book is not just a chronological account of his life as a photographer, it is also a valuable record of the growth and evolution of wildlife photography in India. It talks of techniques and tips and of the stalwarts of photography and conservation. It will be a treasure trove of information, a wildlife enthusiast’s delight. “It is my lifetime’s work,” says the photographer.

The question is, will it ever see the light of day? Perumal is still looking for a sponsor to publish the book. He is not a man of means. “I’ve made a lot of true friends in my life, but not made any money,” he states. He has no contacts in high places, either. A publication in the South did show interest and assured him it would publish the book, but has now fallen silent. The contact person refuses to answer his call or respond to his mails.

“They must be busy with more important things,” he says. But Perumal hopes to get corporate help. Bittoo Sahgal, Editor of Sanctuary Asia, and wildlife photographer Vivek Sinha have written the foreword to his book.

Perumal’s contributions

Encounters in the Forest Edited by Perumal and M.N. Jayakumar, Conservator of Forests, Mysore Circle, also a wildlife photographer, this is an anthology of over 330 classic photographs of wildlife taken in Karnataka by 60 leading photographers. It features mammals, birds, reptiles, flowering plants, fungi, butterflies and other insects and spiders.

Photographing Wildlife in India Brought out by Perumal, it is a first field guide for beginners. It was brought out simultaneously by Bombay Natural History Society, Sanctuary Asia and View Finder (the official journal of the Federation of Indian Photography).

Some South Indian Butterflies A handy field guide to butterflies written by K. Gunathilagaraj. Perumal has contributed nearly 50 photographs to this seminal work.

A Concise Field Guide to Indian Insects and Arachnids The book by Meenakshi Venkatraman has 200 photographs by Perumal

A few Awards

1963 & 1968 Awarded by the Federation Internationale de l’Art Photgraphique

1975 National Press Council Award for Industrial Photography

1995 Karnataka Lalit Kala Academy for Nature Photography

1977 The Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society of United Kingdom

1978 Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society of United Kingdom

1983 Master Photographer of the French Federation de l’Art Photographique

1993 Honorary Fellowship of the India International Photographic Council New Delhi

2008 Certificate of appreciation for contribution to wildlife photography by Sanctuary Asia