“It’s my third eye”: On National Camera Day, wildlife photographer Shaaz Jung opens up about his love for the instrument

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On National Camera Day, Platocast interviewed Shaaz Jung, whose photographs of a majestic black panther had recently taken the internet by storm.

Several decades ago, the first camera was invented by an Arab scholar, Ibn al-Haytham, and was named Camera Obscura. This was, however, just a basic camera invented to show how light can be used to project an image on a flat surface — the idea behind which was the Natural Optical Phenomenon.

French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce was the first to invent the camera which could preserve a photograph, in 1816. 

However, the perfect camera, the one that ensured photographs did not fade easily, was invented by Alexander Wolcott in 1829.

It has been years since these cameras were invented, and now is a time when clicking photographs is the most common thing in everyday life. We capture daily events to preserve memories that might otherwise dwindle to a trickle. 

Today, June 29, is National Camera Day. How this day came into existence is unknown, but it is dedicated to those who are inseparable from their cameras.

Keeping this day in mind, we are overwhelmed with incredible photographs of majestic wild animals flashing before our eyes. Some of the best photographs of the wild that have inspired children and adults alike today have been captured by Shaaz Jung — the Leopard Man of India.

Shaaz — a professional wildlife photographer, cinematographer and big cat specialist — says that his connection with the jungle is decades old. He specialises in documenting melanistic leopards.

In recent days, our social media feeds were full of images of a kingly black panther, which were captured by Shaaz himself. The glorious black fur and the captivating eyes of Saya triggered a murmur among netizens just some months ago.

Most of Shaaz’s photographs have been clicked in Nagarhole National Park, situated in the districts of Mysore and Kodagu. Home to a variety of wild animals, it is located to the northwest of Bandipur National Park, with Kabini reservoir separating the two. People across the globe have been long drawn to the beauty of this jungle.

Shaaz was born in 1988 and began journeying through the jungles through in 1990s with his parents. His love for the camera and passion for capturing remarkable moments is unparalleled.

On National Camera Day, Platocast interviewed Shaaz Jung on his love for the camera.

  • What was your first experience with a camera?

My father is an avid wildlife enthusiast and conservationist. As a child of the wild, I grew up in the forests he worked in and in the early 1990s, he picked up his first camera — a Nikon F90 with a simple zoom lens. My first memorable experience of using his camera was when I was eight years old, on safari, with a pack of Asiatic dholes that rested on a beautiful rock in Bandipur National Park. I thought I did a great job but when the film was finally developed in the lab, the entire reel I shot did not have a single picture of a Dhole in them. Just the earth and the sky. I missed it all! 

  • How important is your camera to you?

There’s nothing more satisfying and powerful than telling a compelling visual story. These stories can be told anywhere, the camera is your tool, the world is your stage, and the animals are your characters. It’s so important to use the camera as a tool to document and understand your subject, not just visually but scientifically as well. Try to tell a deeper story that carries knowledge and emotions. Visual storytelling in our world today can inspire people and spark change. I’ve focused my entire career on telling the story of one forest and its inhabitants, and today millions of people want to be a part of that story — a story that could not have been possible without a camera.

  • What is one thing about the camera (among many other things, of course) that makes it a dominant part of your life?

The camera is my third eye, it’s how I see the world. Photography is a very personal journey of understanding our surroundings and how we want to capture and portray it. The camera has the ability to immortalise moments, moments that can shape us as humans and make us more compassionate towards the natural world. This is what makes it inseparable from me. Photography helps me understand the world better and see it in different dimensions, shapes and forms that are forever changing and constantly evolving, just like us.

  •  Like the pen, do you think the camera has the power to spark change?

One of my favourite examples of how the camera can be used to conserve, dates to the 1800s where a photographer named Watkins sparked the birth of conservation, through his pictures of the Yosemite Valley in 1860. These pictures convinced Abraham Lincoln that this amazing natural wonder was worth protecting, which then led to Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant, and that was the first time any federal government had acted to protect a large area of land. This was a very important step in establishing the concept of a national park.

In India today we have several national parks that are well protected and there are so many stories out there waiting to be told. So to all young budding photographers listening, think of yourselves as explorers on a visual quest and use the camera to relish life, inspire people and ultimately spark change.    

  •  If the world were to turn into a place where the use of camera is prohibited, how would you cope?

After 10 years of intense photography, I think I would be okay. As important as the camera is, I sometimes miss seeing the world with my eyes and not through the eye of the lens. I’d like to someday enjoy a truly memorable moment without the fear being unable to capture it on camera.

May Shaaz and his camera continue to create magic!

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