Review - "The Energy of a Forest and its People" - Mark Tatchell, 06 Jan 2020

A review by Jane Tearle - “The Energy of a Forest and its people" presented by guest speaker Mark Tatchell
What an entrancing evening spent in and around the Sal Forest of Central India! I would say the majority of us had no idea where it actually is as we looked at the vastness of the map that is India and the spread of little red areas that are the remaining National Parks in that country. Mark Tatchell, an experienced and well travelled speaker took us on a journey, his journey in Kanha National Park introducing us to the forest, its residents, both the wild animals and its local people, in an evening of two halves.

Mark and wife Morwen spent two months last year in the Sal Forest staying in a lodge just outside the park and travelling into it daily in an open jeep with driver and guide. With his background as a biologist and his interests in observing plant and wildlife, photography has been a long held passion which he explored, on this trip, by using ICM ( intentional camera movement) as a means of showing the energy he observed and felt in this special place.

During the first half Mark took us into the forest to find and photograph tigers, those shy and well hidden animals, the ‘I see you before you see me’ creatures, we all aspire to spotting if we can! And on the way we learned so much about the forest and its inhabitants. The sal, a deciduous tree which changes seasons overnight; the banyan with its gnarled trunk and twisted branches; the bamboo, so difficult to photograph and maybe hiding a tiger, especially as animals see in black and white. The huge diversity of other animals; the variety of deer from the spotted ‘tiger food’ deer, the barasingha with their huge antlers, the samba; the water buffalo; the languars and their families of cute babies; the rhesus macaques; wild dogs; a sloth bear with its very poor eyesight and lack of awareness of others! And then looking up the birds, owls observing silently; the sunbird on a tree which ‘flames’ for a month a year; and of course the peacock emerging in its colourful plumage from the neutral undergrowth. About all of these we learned details of their habits, calls and life in the forest through a series of outstanding individual images.

The use of ICM was Mark’s experimental approach initially, to give the feeling of the energy encompassed within the forest and it led to an amazing group of images which, when interlaced with the animals, made us feel we were in that jeep with him. Being in the jeep meant he was at a higher level than he would like for animals at ground level, but using this to his advantage he panned the camera the opposite way to the way the jeep was moving and produced images with swirls and patterns, often with a tree of even a termite mound as the central point to give a focus to the picture. The odd bump in the track gave another aspect to some images! I could go on!

The second half concentrated on the people of the Banja River, the life blood to the area. Visiting in the non-monsoon season, avoiding the plagues of mosquitoes and very much higher water level, was key! The village of Kawothi and its people with their big smiles showing superbly white teeth, kept so by chewing on twigs from the reem tree; the welcoming attitude to their visitors to include them in their everyday as well as special occasions, including holi (which was noticeably less frenetic than the one I experienced in Kathmandu!); the cleanliness of their homes and yards where the collecting of water, wood from the forest (carefully controlled) and the daily brushing of all areas were part of the family duties. The children went to school in clean uniforms, peddling their bikes to and fro along the rough paths lined by the forest; the women out in the fields, tending their aubergines, sleeping in stilted houses so they could see off the pilfering languars who called by during the night!!; fishing in the river for the smallest of fish.. delicious when grilled for a minute each side! And then there were the markets… photographers love markets!

What a delightful journey Mark led us on. For those who have maybe experienced other areas of India, this definitely had a different feel, a different culture. Mark’s descriptions of the life led by these people showed his love for the area and his keen and careful observations meant we all fell in love with it too. The photography was superb throughout and gave us the insight into thinking about using ICM to illustrate something specific.. such as Mark’s energy within this beautiful area of India. I would love to go.

~ Jane Tearle