Abstract advocacy

As Aldo Leopold once said, “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.” Ganesh H Shankar explains the importance of effectively using the medium of art in conservation.

We have seen images of tigers cut into pieces by poachers, rhinos shot dead with horns removed, wide-angle images of road-kills with blood all over the road, usually with a moving lorry in the backdrop, and so

Often, these images are used for creating awareness about conservation. While these can make our blood boil, there could be another more subtle approach to conservation photography; one that creates awareness through abstract ways, giving time to viewers to ponder over the situation peacefully. This will probably help contribute to the cause in a more objective way.

Using art to create awareness is not a novel concept. Several great poets were imprisoned during our freedom struggle for the poetry they wrote, Hitler believed modern abstract artists were dangerous and vowed to eliminate them. Similarly, abstract nature photography can become a powerful tool for creating awareness.

Like any work of art, there is no formula to create such abstract visuals. Presence of mind and quality time in the field can enable some of these thoughts. Here are a few abstract attempts at portraying a conservation message.

In the image of the pugmark and tyre prints, the tiger footprint being run over by a safari vehicle can form a very compelling visual. It subtly conveys the sense of tigers losing space, while highlighting their sad existential crisis today.

Defeated? A vulture sets the tone

Defeated? A vulture sets the tone


Studies in cognitive psychology show that shapes, forms, colours, orientation (among other attributes) can trigger certain emotions in human beings. For example, Pavlova and her colleagues observed, in their work, ‘Perceived dynamics of static images enables emotional attribution’, that implied imbalance in static pictures can trigger different emotions. For example, people attributed more suffering to slanted figures compared to corresponding upright ones (say, a slanted two dimensional oval versus an upright two-dimensional oval). Probably some reading of such literature in cognitive psychology may help us understand ourselves better and help us create more compelling visuals.

In the image of the lone vulture on a hillock, I waited for the vulture to look down to use the posture to convey its weary mood. I also composed the bird in such a way that space is left behind the bird instead of in front of it, which is the usual practice in composition. To me, this posture and composition portray a sense of defeat and the risk of losing these birds forever.

Similarly, in the image of the rhino with its cub (previous page), I tried to keep the tones muted, lose the details and composed a frame that creates a sad mood. I just needed their retreating posture to create the abstract feel of humans pushing them to the edge of this fragile ecosystem.

Needless to say, there is no defined formula for making effective images that create positively correlated meaning among its viewers. I think honest attempts at deeper introspections, leveraging ideas from different streams of art and combining knowledge from cognitive psychology may help us create compelling artistic visuals to conserve our fragile nature.


Cover Photo: May its tribe increase. Can we share some space?


Initally published in Sep – Oct 2013 issue of SAEVUS Magazine

Read also: Revisiting the moments in the wild 

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About the Author /

Ganesh is a passionate photographer with a keen focus on nature, art and creativity.

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