Saturday, 13 December 2014 00:00
When Chitral Jayatilake first picked up his camera and went trudging into the wild to capture images of its untamed inhabitants, he was driven purely by personal interest. After repeating the exercise for 35 years and varying the destinations of his excursions, his wildlife photography gradually shed the identity of an adventurous hobby and took on a more meaningful hue.
At present it is a tool which Chitral utilises masterfully to promote the unique natural beauty and biodiversity of Sri Lanka to both foreigners and locals. His reasons for conveying this message to the former group is motivated by a desire to encourage tourism, a task which gained sharper focus when Chitral began working at Cinnamon Hotels.
However, his enviable ability to expertly ensnare the finest and most feral qualities of the subjects within the framed dimensions of his photographs and then resurrect them in the mind of even the most casual viewer has helped immensely in wildlife conservation efforts.
“It shows people the things animals do, which often many safarigoers miss while on rushed game drives. The true nature of animals and the rare moments they create can help convince people of how beautiful nature is and why we must work to protect this wealth,” Chitral explains.
His latest exhibition, ‘Art in the Wild’, is sure to achieve this when it opens at the Lionel Wendt on 16 December at 5.30 p.m. Perhaps it will do so better than any of its precursors considering that in addition to Chitral’s work it will also feature several photographs by his 16-year-old daughter Ashwini, who has been accompanying Chitral on safaris since she was eight.
“My daughter Ashi is a very patient photographer. She loves leopards as much as me but is also very good in waiting in one place to capture birds in flight,” Chitral says.
The theme of the exhibition will pay particular emphasis to ‘Animal behaviour and moments in the wilds of Sri Lanka and India’.
His pictures of Indian wildlife will be another unique aspect of this exhibition and will showcase a number of intriguing and exotics species, none more so than the tiger.
Chitral asserts that several images from his latest photo expo stand out in his mind both for their quality and the challenging circumstances under which he took them. “We managed to catch leopard cubs at play, aerial photography and animals that are not often seen in the dry zone, along with a few infrared images,” he states.
“We’re blessed to have so much, but the irresponsible use of land and tourism can put much of this at risk and under stress. We must re-examine strategies dealing with the sustainable use of our environment because habitat loss is the single most devastating threat many species face.”
Chitral reveals that his ultimate objective is to position Sri Lanka as “a great destination to watch and explore wildlife.”
His pursuit of this noble goal has blurred the lines defining his relationship with the fauna he photographs, giving him the additional veneer of a unique breed of wildlife activist. This is possibly an inevitable transformation for someone who spends large chunks of his life immersed in the wild, chasing an instant saturated with poignancy in a tableau teeming with natural beauty.
“I always felt that good photography can make a powerful statement and help change attitudes. I’ve tried this for 10 years and I must say I have been encouraged by the positive results achieved. But my work is not done. We have so much more to do to ensure that the natural world in Sri Lanka prevails. This event, ‘Art in the Wild’, is yet another effort by me and Ashi to help elevate awareness about how much we have and what we must conserve for the future,” Chitral explains.