Featured Artist Q&A: Lavanya Prakash

A mother long-tailed macaque holding her baby.
Long-tailed Macaque. The Featured Artist Gallery contains more information about this photo. Photo © Lavanya Prakash.

Introduction

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.

A teenage girl, Lavanya Prakash, standing in front of a turquoise lake.
Lavanya by Lake Tekapo in New Zealand. Photo © Lavanya Prakash.

To help you get to know Lavanya, I sent her a list of five questions. Here are her responses:

Q&A

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.

Lavanya’s first TEDx talk, in which she explains the story behind her blog.

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.

A northern royal albatross.
Northern Royal Albatross by Ed Dunens. CC BY 2.0

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!

A young woman standing on a mountaintop and extending her arms like the letter t.
Spending time in nature is good for one’s physical and mental health. Happy to Play with Nature Miss Shova Shah by Shyam Bahadur Sunari Magar. CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

A baby otter!
Despite her commitments, Lavanya still finds time to get outside. Head here for a sample of her work, including this picture of two smooth-coated otters. Photo © Lavanya Prakash.

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.

Closing Thoughts

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!

18 Thoughts

  1. Thank you so much for allowing me to be your first feature on this series! It was an honor. I hope that your series inspires everyone and anyone to raise their voice for conservation and environmental issues that they are passionate about, because we can all make a difference in our own way :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on My Nature Experiences and commented:

    Josh Gross has been a fellow blogger and kind supporter of my blog for many years. He reached out to interview me for a new series on his blog, the Featured Artist series, where he aims to highlight the contributions of non-scientists to environmentalism and conservation. I was so honored to share my story and reflect on my journey so far. I hope it inspires you to raise your voice for any issue that you are passionate about, because we all have the power to make a difference, in our own unique ways. Thank you so much to Josh for featuring me! Do support his blog and check out the rest of his series :)

    Liked by 1 person

          1. I mostly follow West Indians, Europeans and then writers from everywhere. Those are generally people who are not just hilarious, but have a very witty way of getting their message across. So, we end up laughing at situations that we should probably take more seriously.

            Jamaicans do this all the time. We call it (English translated) “taking bad things and making jokes. Generally, for us, if we can’t change it then the best approach is to make it funny. That’s why despite being a Third World country with poverty and hardships, suicide rates are ridiculously low compared to America and other countries. I guess you could call that the “right outlook” but we tick off other Twitter users all the time who are outraged that we are not outraged. 🤷🏽‍♀️

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Okay, I seriously need to follow more Jamaicans! I’ve been intentionally cutting back on my Twitter time because I’m sick of everyone screaming at each other in the most unproductive ways possible. Seriously though, I need to get back to the Caribbean somehow! I made better friends in my six weeks there than I have in over 20 years in the US.

            Like

          3. We are friendly people. What can we say?? You can start by following some of the people you see me interacting with. We usually have a Jamaican flag in our username, but not always. The problem is though that wit is cultural, so you may not understand a lot of the jokes because of the cultural reference or the patois puns. But, you gotta start somewhere lol

            Liked by 1 person

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