Ambarin Afsar engages in a candid conversation with Rajesh Bedi in an attempt to peel away the layers to his immense repertoire of photography.
Famously known as one of India’s best wildlife photographers, Rajesh Bedi has no qualms with the tag. “Wildlife photography is my first love. I enjoy it, and it is something I find peace in.” But, his travel and documentary work is just as versatile as the images from his time in the wild. He has published an array of photo books on Ladakh, Sikkim, Varanasi and has even compiled a historic look at sadhus.
Nature Walks Deep into Forests
Bedi’s father was a botanist and often, his search for medicinal plants or rare seeds and herbs would take him deep into forested areas. He would carry along a camera and make pictures of rare specimens. On these trips, he would be accompanied by his two sons, Rajesh and Naresh Bedi, aged 8 and 10 years. “He would point out pug marks to us, and tell us which particular print belonged to an elephant and which one belonged to a tiger. He would also take us along to watering holes frequented by a variety of animals, and this is how photography travelled in our family. It was only natural that our love for wildlife grew.”
The Changing Face of Photography
Bedi has been shooting for nearly 40 years now, and therefore is liable to have noticed a shift in the aesthetics of photography in general and wildlife photography in particular. “The digital age has transformed everything. Cameras, and therefore images, are more accessible. People do not need to worry about film stock and are not conservative about the quantity of images they shoot. I am not averse to digital photography or postprocessing, but I believe that if you do not know the basics, and think that equipment or software can help you, then you are misleading yourself.”
A Conservationist’s Aesthetic
There are many methods related with wildlife photography as well, right from the documentary to the creative and fine art approach. But, Rajesh Bedi’s personal opinion is that despite some outstanding work being done by the current crop of photographers, a certain kind of imagery is missing. “We, as photographers, sometimes fail to make images that show animal’s struggle with its environment on a day-to-day basis.
Pictures where the animal is dwarfed by the enormity of its habitat or images that show man’s interference with nature are rare. “In a world where conservation is important and we are losing more and more forest cover, these images are essential.”
“Raghubir Singh’s book, The Ganges, is a landmark work. No other work comes close to it.”
“My working days and my holidays are one and the same. Every assignment helps me travel to new places and experiences.”
The Purity of the Desert
It is perhaps this emphasis on the surroundings that translates to Bedi’s latest photo book, Rajasthan: Under the Desert Sky—a work that took four years to culminate into a single book, and one that promises to spill over to yet another volume.
Instead of the typical, yet spectacular images that fill one’s imagination when thinking of the princely state, one sees a more rooted, humble approach. “Plenty of work and quite a few books have already been published on Rajasthan. While those showed the picture postcard glory of the place, I was more interested in capturing the purity that I have felt every time I have been there. Everything changes so soon… I wanted to get the essence of the place before technology and the instinct to survive brought about permanent change.”
Floating Over the Desert
Most of the images have been shot using hot air balloons and kite rigs. “I had a 14-member crew along with me, including a superb pilot and other fellow photographers.” But, even the leisurely pace of the hot air balloon was not without its challenges. “It was important to time my shots well. I made most of the images in the early hours of the morning before it got too hot. Sometimes, we would have to revisit a particular place three or four times because the direction of the wind was not favourable and we would even have to wait several hours before the balloon could be steered. An aerial photo of cattle grazing in the desert took us more than three days as clouds covered the sun for most of the day.”
“LIFE and National Geographic have been constant sources of inspiration. They make me ask myself why I can’t do work like that.”
A Mixed Platter of Images
“An image that makes you think, which drives you, and makes you admire its content, is a good image.” This thought is quite evident in his choice of images. The subjects range from deserted forts and primitive rock shelters of the Aravalli range, the colourful and cheerful lives of indigenous tribes, bustling cities and melas, villages where solar panels have made inroads and Bedi’s trademark wildlife shots.
Bedi truly enjoys his experiments with photography, and this is very evident. There is a simplicity and a humility to him that also touches his work. “Photography is the best thing I have known. What better way to live life than to travel all over the world and bring back images to share with family, friends and viewers alike.
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Better Photography.Tags: Ambarin Afsar, Rajesh Bedi, October 2013, Wildlife photographers, Great Masters