James Godber, Deputy Head of the India Science and Innovation Network, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, British Deputy High Commission, says India has been a great home for him during his posting here. He is raising a young family in Bangalore and says that he has experienced what a senior government official told him - “India is anything and everything you want it to be”.
Speaking to CSP, James says, "I think it’s true that you can find and experience a huge range of things in this beautiful country." He has helped curate the photography session for Srishti Sambhrama and says he hopes "this exhibition will bring some of that diversity to life. From charismatic species such as the tiger and elephant to rarely photographed insects, India is a rich nation with much to conserve. "
How did our interest in photograph begin?
I’ve always been fascinated in photography but though I had cameras in my youth, I only really began to develop my competence when I purchased my first digital SLR. The digital media is amazing as it allows each of us to learn by trial and error, without the need to spend money on film and processing. It also gives us instant feedback; you can see the image just moments after clicking the shutter.
What got you into wildlife photography?
My interest in the natural world stemmed from my childhood. My first degree was in environmental economics and environmental management and bringing photography together with this passion seemed a natural progression. Saying that, photography also helped me to slow down. I used to rush round nature reserves in the UK and was constantly disappointed that I’d not really seen anything. It’s more important that we enjoy the experience of being surrounded by nature than worry about getting a particular shot, though it is of course fantastic when things come together.
Elk (A.alces) feeding on marshland plants, Biebrza National Park, Poland (Pic James Godber)
Among all the places you have visited thus far, which would you consider your favourite?
I’m lucky to have visited a large number of countries. Every experience though is different and there’s always something good, even in the most frustrating or disappointing of circumstances. Imagine travelling a long distance to photograph animals and birds in snow, only to find that there’s no snow at all or travelling to flying to a country to witness autumn colours only to find that the leaves have yet to turn or worse already fallen. No matter how carefully you plan these things happen as we really can’t control the weather! I have had great wildlife experiences in Finland, which provides vastly different opportunities in summer (watching bears and wolverine) and in winter (watching eagles, elk and smaller birds). But regardless of when you’re there, as with all photography, you need an abundance of patience.
In terms of my favourite place to travel, I love the untouched beauty and space that you can find in New Zealand. Nature really does surround you there and there’s a reason to stop the car beyond each corner. And I’ve still not managed to spot a kiwi, despite several night walks when I’ve heard them calling, so I’ll have to go back some day.
What are your opinions on wildlife photography and conservation?
Awareness is the first step toward adopting the right attitude and doing the right things. If your livelihood is based on agriculture and live in an area where human-animal conflict means you incur considerable losses caused by wildlife then unless someone has explained to you why the animals and plants are important then it’s unlikely that you’ll care much for them or want to help protect them. Instead you spend your time focused on how to increase crop yields and grow enough to put food on the table. Photography can play a role in helping to address these knowledge gaps by introducing people to the diversity of the environment that they may otherwise never see and so can play an important role in stimulating a conversation about conservation and the role of both individuals and communities in protecting our planet.
Puffin (F.artica) calling: Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK (Pic James Godber)
Is there a particular experience while photographing the wild that you would like to share with us?
When I was studying (a long time ago) I was lucky enough to be given a place as a researcher on a team working to inform the environmental impact assessment for a hydropower project in Tanzania. That work means that I am one of a few handfuls of people who have held in their hand in the wild a particular species of toad. It’s not really a photography story – though I did take photographs whilst there – but is a defining memory of time spent with nature and in the wild and was a huge privilege.
More generally, and it’s a cliché, but photography is all about capturing moments. And every time I see a tiger or spot a rare bird doing something that I’ve not seen before my heart skips a beat. On my most recent visit to Kabini I was lucky to see a serpent eagle take a rat snake into the tree. Watching this beautiful bird feed was an incredible way to spend 20 minutes and the time just flew by so fast; I was immersed in the moment.
What is the longest you have waited to get a shot?
I think I’d been on around 20 safaris in India before I had a good tiger sighting, so that’s around 10 days. But I’ve also entered bird hides in Europe pre-dawn and remained in the hide for over 12 hours until after dark and seen almost nothing at all! You have to have a lot of patience and be comfortable with your own thoughts. If it were easy, I guess everyone would do it. The internet is saturated with images of wildlife. Taking one that stands out is the challenge and something that I’m still working on.
Is there an animal that you wish to click or one animal that you would love to click again and again?
I’m worried about what we as humans are doing to our beautiful planet and the impact that habitat fragmentation is having on a huge number of species. Each journey is special. I think we have to live each day for what it is, and be grateful for what we have. I would love to visit Antarctica and to photograph a jaguar in the Pantanal (in Brazil) but if life doesn’t work out that way, then I think I should remain grateful for having seen and experienced so many beautiful things in wild places.
What would you say is your favourite Wildlife spot in India?
There are so many places that I’d like to be able to go. I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface and unfortunately I will leave India next year so am unlikely to be able to visit them all before my time here comes to an end. I remember visiting Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur on my very first visit to India in late 2008 and absolutely loving it. We had an incredible guide who was able to show my wife and I dozens of different species across just a few journeys into the park. I don’t have a favourite; India is so rich and diverse and those of you reading this who have your homes here are extremely fortunate.
Leopard (P.pardus) Kabini Forest, Rajiv Gandhi National Park (Nagarhole) Karnataka, by James Godber
What do you think are the challenges you face as a wildlife photographer, and those that you face in India?
Slightly tongue in cheek perhaps, but one is getting the gear you need to where you need it. Camera lenses are often big and heavy and airlines allow you to take limited weight as carry on. Every time I check in, particularly here in India where the airline staff seem to like to ask questions, I hold the stare of the person behind the check in counter, kind of daring them to ask to weigh my carry on and at the same time praying that they won’t!
The other thing that I sometimes find challenging about wildlife work in India is knowing (as an independent traveller) who to book with and where to go for help and advice. Will the guesthouse be good (and value for money)? Will the guide really be knowledgeable? Have they worked with photographers before and do they understand our demands? Finding this stuff out on the internet is a real challenge, which is why I think so many international wildlife enthusiasts end up treading the same well-trodden path to either Ranthambhore or Bandhavgarh!
Can you comment on the locals of India and their relationship they share with the wild?
I feel lucky to live in Bangalore and am surrounded by people who love nature and the environment. I have a very talented colleague, Sunil Kumar, who works with me at the Deputy High Commission, and has written a book on ants, much of it researched in the beautiful surrounds of IISc. I have met incredible photographers and cinematographers, some of whom are taking part in the exhibition and I have also met numerous wonderful naturalists. Pressures on India’s wild spaces are increasing, but there are huge numbers of people in positions of power as well as ordinary people who care about immensely about the environment and the natural world. I am hopeful that their work, energy and enthusiasm will continue to help introduce more people to these treasures and help encourage their conservation.
(Cover Pic by James Godber)