Ian Lockwood’s latest photo exhibition that opens today aims to understand the unique landscapes of the Western Ghats through his three-decade journey and a new lens
Bombay Shola, named in 1852 by one Major Partridge of the Bombay Army, who camped there
If someone told us Mahabaleshwar was a sky island, we would agree. It’s an escape to cooler temperatures and pretty views. But the term isn’t a romantic one. As educator, photographer, and environmentalist, Ian Lockwood shares, it is used to describe an elevated (mountainous) area that is considerably different from the biodiversity of its surrounding plain areas. He adds, “These areas are separated from the lower and warmer plains, where species get isolated and become [endemic]. Each island has its own unique features and that is why they are called ‘sky islands’ and not one island.” At Sky Island Exhibition: An Endangered Landscape, which opens today at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Lockwood portrays these ancient (which are older than the Himalayas!) landscapes of the Southern Western Ghats or Shola Sky Islands through photographs spanning three decades.
At a recent panel discussion, science photographer Prasenjeet Yadav, Lockwood’s colleague and friend, whom he endearingly calls Prasen, verbally drew a picture of the Western Ghats. The image that was conjured in the writer’s mind was identical to the exhibition’s poster image of the sky islands when we came across it later. The morning he landed in Mumbai from Sri Lanka, Lockwood completed the term’s description, calling it a sea of haze from which you can see other sky islands (or mountain tops) sticking out. Now picture that view from a tourist point at Mahabaleshwar. Do you see the sky islands?
The Southern Escarpment
“Sky islands is a relatively new concept for an old range of mountains. It’s not a new idea, but we have new vocabulary to understand a landscape that we are already familiar with. Most people have been to hill stations in South India — Ooty, Kodaikanal, or even Mahabaleshwar [in Maharashtra], but they might have not thought about the landscape and biodiversity from this perspective,” he explains.
Lockwood has been documenting the geography and biodiversity of the Western Ghats for 30 years, focusing on interpreting the intersection of the landscape, biodiversity and human cultural interactions. Through 34 monochromatic photographs, the exhibition unravels this evolving narrative of the Palani Hills over the years, along with images from the Nilgiris, the Munnar hill range, shots from the southernmost parts of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka — together with the Western Ghats, it is considered one biodiversity hotspot.
For the exhibition, the photographer dips into his personal archive of negative films shot on medium format film. There are prints from as early as 1995, some that haven’t been exhibited before, and others that Lockwood has seen printed for the first time, particularly the image of the Thalaiyar Falls base captured 20 years ago.
As he transitioned to newer digital photography tools, Lockwood delves deeper into his signature visual language of black and white photography which offers intimate perspectives of his subject’s portraiture. Prints will be accompanied by a QR code and maps that explore his stories behind the shot and allow for a wider perspective of the landscapes. The photographer will also conduct lectures at different locations during the course of the show.
The showcase is produced by Kodaikanal International School (KIS) of which Lockwood is an alumnus, to raise funds for their Center for Environment and Humanity (CEH) an environment education initiative in Palani Hills.
Till December 3; 12 pm to 8 pm
At Dilip Piramal Art Gallery, NCPA, Nariman Point.
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