I recently announced that I was launching a new Featured Artist series on this blog. I’ll periodically select a new nature-based artist to highlight, publish a Q&A/interview with them, and upload a selection of their work in my new Featured Artist Gallery. The point of this series is to show that there are many ways to contribute to wildlife conservation – including art.
The first featured artist on The Jaguar and Allies is Lavanya Prakash. Lavanya is one of my oldest friends on the blogosphere, and an extraordinary young woman.
At the age of 12, Lavanya “stole” her mother’s camera and began taking pictures of Singapore’s incredible biodiversity. The art of photography awoke a passion for nature in Lavanya, who’s been an advocate for Singapore’s wildlife ever since.
Lavanya launched a successful blog called My Nature Experiences, has been featured in news and magazine publications, has appeared on television, and has given two TEDx presentations. Lavanya’s central message is this: young people need to spend less time on social media and more time engaging with nature.
To help you get to know Lavanya, I sent her a list of five questions. Here are her responses:
How did photography help you become so enthralled by nature?
I think it was the mere fact that I hadn’t really noticed the natural world around me until I saw it through the lens of the camera; photography gave me the ability to observe the intricacies of flora and fauna. I started to fall in love with being able to capture memorable encounters with an animal and then being able to share it with others through my blog.
When I started sharing my photographs online, I learnt from fellow bloggers and readers about Singapore’s biodiversity. As I educated myself on Singapore’s natural heritage, I became more and more enthralled by the beauty of the natural world and committed myself to raising awareness about it to others.
What has been your most satisfying nature experience?
That’s a tough question! This may come across a bit cheesy, but every experience I have outdoors is satisfying. Even on the days I don’t spot that rare bird or mammal, just walking through the forest – listening to the sounds of the chirping cicadas and the buzzing of bees – puts me at ease.
If I must choose one of my most unique experiences, it would have to be my recent visit to the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, New Zealand. We were lucky to witness a pair of Northern Royal Albatross – an endangered species. They have an incredibly large wingspan of over 3 meters and can fly vast distances from their breeding grounds to feed, around 190,000 km a year!
It was a lucky experience as this was the only mainland breeding colony. Although the winds there were bitterly cold, it was just beyond words to see these magnificent birds.
When you take pictures, do you set out with a specific concept in mind that you try to illustrate through your photographs? Or do you just seize whatever opportunities Mother Nature affords you?
Well, in the beginning of my blogging journey I set out to visit all the parks and nature reserves in Singapore; I would then blog about the unique flora and fauna in those places.
Over time, my content has grown and I usually post pictures from any place I visit. Also, you can never predict something when you go out in nature. People may have spotted a certain species or say it is common in that area, but there is a chance you may not see it. So, I never set expectations and try to experience and seize whatever nature brings.
What can people, especially youth, gain from spending time away from social media and immersed in nature?
There are innumerable physical and mental health benefits from spending time in nature. As being outdoors gives you a full sensory experience, people – especially the youth – can benefit from improved concentration, focus and confidence. A recent study has even found that spending time in nature makes you kinder!
Beyond that, in an increasingly urbanized world, our disconnection from nature increases our apathy towards the environment. Our generation is unfortunately growing up being afraid of the wilderness; and, even worse, taking it for granted and exploiting it.
When the youth are connected to nature – whether that’s through trekking, kayaking, snorkeling, or simply looking at nature and learning about their local biodiversity – they are more likely to want to preserve it for future generations.
Your About page says that you’re, “Pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies in the National University of Singapore (NUS).” What do you hope to do with that degree?
So far, my degree has given me the opportunity to contribute to environmental conservation and outreach both in and beyond the classroom.
I’ve only completed one semester here and I’ve already learnt so much from my professors and fellow students. The program is multi-disciplinary with modules from public health, law, policy and economics to name a few. I’m learning the challenges that come with sustainability, along with the variety of environmental issues and solutions for them.
I’m glad to be a part of the NUS BES (Bachelor of Environmental Studies) Student Committee, NUS SAVE (Students Against the Violation of Earth) Committee as well as a vegan and dance club member too. I’m really enjoying working towards greening my campus, and am taking it step by step.
Right now, I’m focusing on doing well academically and also on getting real-world experience through internship and volunteering work. I’m not yet sure what kind of career or startup I want to venture into, but it will be in the sustainability field and a space where I can make an impact for the environment, animals and people alike.
The urgency of today’s environmental challenges cannot be understated, and we must act quickly.
I’d like to thank Lavanya for participating in this post, and for allowing her work to be displayed on The Jaguar and Allies. Head to this digital art gallery to view a selection of her photographs – complete with descriptions!