Retro Kolkata : Please introduce yourself. Tell us about your background.
Debarpan Datta : Hi, Debarpan here. I am not a photographer; rather I’d like to introduce myself as a person who has decided to dedicate himself in studying and gathering in-depth knowledge about nature and wildlife. I am working in Nature Mates, a Wildlife Research & Conservation Organization based in Kolkata. To talk about my background; it’s a bit complex one but eventually that turned out to be very helpful in chasing my childhood dream of working with wildlife. I completed my Graduation in English Literature and my masters in Environmental Studies. Somehow my dream of conservation story-telling got brilliant support from this combination and that has helped me to work in different genres of wildlife research and conservation in last few years.
Retro Kolkata : How important is photography to you? How did you start photography?
Debarpan Datta : I can say that I am in a way indebted to photography as my interest to observe bird behaviour was intensified by this practice of freezing moments. Photography taught me to identify definite patterns about wildlife and I love the way how I can use these small early learning in my observations, works and studies.
My love for photography started long back when I was just 6, back in the year 2000, watching dad using an age old Nikon FM10 Manual SLR Camera. I got the first lessons from him and learnt the value of one single frame as those were the times when for one entire trip of a month we would have maximum 5 film rolls which means a total of 180 shots. Today in this era of digital photography when we don’t even need to count the number of shutter being released for one frame, I always feel from within how important that lesson of my childhood was. Gradually with time I developed my skills in the manual camera and finally entered the digital photography world post 2010.
Retro Kolkata : What motivates and inspires you as a photographer?
Debarpan Datta : Photography always fascinated me in a way where the artists speak of something already existing in front of their eyes and what they try to show is the perspective to observe something with their clicks. In all other celebrated art-forms be it painting, poetry or art craft the artist has the liberty of establishing something out of a blank canvas or right from the zero which is another different grade of challenge. But while I’m taking photograph of any certain thing I have an added responsibility to convey a story silently to the audience. Like; while clicking any wildlife I always try to depict its habitat or behavioural condition so that people have a greater idea rather than just looking at the image. This storytelling inspires me the most. Photography is not just a passion to me; it’s a medium of deeper silent communication.
Retro Kolkata : Which genre of photography do you like and What inspires you? Which masters of photography have inspired you in your photographic work?
Debarpan Datta : Nature and Wildlife fascinates me the most and naturally they are my favourite subjects. More precisely I can say I love to document wading birds and raptors the most.
As I previously said I try to tell stories with my photographs. Every photograph in this world has certain messages. I always try to use my pictures as medium for communicating intricate details for awareness. That’s my biggest inspiration.
I have been extremely fond of watching works of Mr. Dhritiman Mukherjee and learn passively, how conservation storytelling can be effective in today’s world. I consider him my hero in this field. Apart from his, I always cherish to follow works of Mr. Masood Hussain, Mr. Krishna Murthy, Mr. David Llyod to name a few; the list definitely doesn’t end this short.
Retro Kolkata : What type of camera, lenses and lighting equipment do you use?
Debarpan Datta : I have a very limited gear collection: Just a Nikon D750 Camera with Nikon 200-500 VR lens. I don’t have any extra lighting equipment as I prefer to shoot only in natural lights.
Retro Kolkata : What subjects inspire you and prompt you to look for the shot?
Debarpan Datta : In a line I can say that Wildlife, especially birds attract me the most. What prompts me the most is any definite characteristic behaviour of theirs which describes them better in terms of developing an understanding of the species in detail.
Retro Kolkata : What exactly is wildlife and natural habitat conservation & why is it important? How can you as a photographer help protect wildlife and conservation?
Debarpan Datta : Going with just the meaning, wildlife and natural habitat conservation is any and every effort to help the natural elements thrive safely at their own pace and freedom. Now if we ask the question why it is important; what exactly conservation is will be clarified by itself. Working regularly in the field of this specific question under the guidance of some very inspiring and knowledgeable seniors I have developed an understanding that conservation is an initiative to ensure sustainability and survival of human beings on a much broader sense. All the Projects headlined with conserving several species is indirectly an effort to save ourselves they are actually “Project Human” in a broader sense as if one species in this world goes extinct, the entire ecosystem can collapse and we can be exposed to existential crisis and probably won’t survive the threat. We have to change our idea that we are no one to save or conserve Mother Nature; she can save herself on her own. Just like we have seen during the pandemic, Nature Healed herself by imprisoning us within our rooms and pollution level went significantly down. So nature has its own way of saving itself which we are not capable to cope up with. We need to develop an understanding that it’s us who have encroached in the natural habitat of wild animals and isolated them in small pockets naming them as protected natural areas. Conservation is never possible if we are not aware of our vulnerability and are willing to save ourselves and act accordingly. This is where we need to understand and accept the fact that wildlife and natural habitat conservation is important because it’s actually the effort to save our own future, ensure our survival in a healthy way for longer period. If we keep thinking like we are working for the welfare of any animal, the result will never be sweet. Conservation is a very grave word; it has much deeper meaning than we can superficially interpret.
Firstly I’m not a photographer; this is so big a word which is suitable for stalwarts like the names I mentioned earlier. I am just a person who for the sake of his works and interest in observing wildlife takes photographs. Working under the guidance of some old warriors in this field has taught me how photography can be instrumental in conservation, from where my dream of conservation storytelling got the required fuel to progress. Every photograph is eloquent, and for the people who love to study wildlife, photographs are absolute blessings. Modern photography gear helps us to record the proper date, time, and location of every photograph, and these records are very essential for conservation, like for important documentation. Also photographs are evidence of definite behaviour which is being studied by any certain person. Scientists today are also using photography to document specific aspects which they are finding from their tireless research works. Now, every aspect of this world has two sides, it depends on us who are going to prevail, the menacing one or the beautiful one. If used properly, photography can bring revolutionary changes in human approach as it is one of the brightest forms of art and interaction. The stories told, the messages delivered by a photograph, are themselves an ingredient for conservation. It is now up to us to decide how much value we are willing to place on a photograph; whether we allow an image to speak loudly and pierce through our hearts, or whether we represent it in a casual way where anyone simply take a quick glance and walk away without even looking at it properly. In the recent past, we have seen sad incidents due to our irresponsible behaviour while clicking wildlife; like destroying bird habitats and forcing a mother bird to abandon its fledglings in the nest as some over enthusiastic photographers crossed the line to get one good frame. We are transforming an extraordinary tool of conservation into a demon-like instrument just by our irresponsible attitude. On the other hand, we can see people like Mr. Dhritiman Mukherjee doing wonders with the camera in his hand and inspiring people like us with his pictorial storytelling, catching the eyes of thousands of people and making them aware, motivating us to dig deeper into a subject. I just mentioned two sides that reflect how the art of photography is right now balancing on the age of the knife concerning conservation. It is now up to us to decide which side we will help to win.
Retro Kolkata : What is the best project you have worked on and how did you get involved with it?
Debarpan Datta : Now, my projects are never related only to photography. They are much more about working physically directly or indirectly with wildlife. Luckily I have to travel a lot and get many opportunities to use my camera in my projects. Among all the projects I have worked or have been working in, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation holds a very special place. When we rescue and finally release any injured helpless wildlife back into the wild that gives me some unexplainable satisfaction.
But if I talk about working in any dream project, that would be the research study of waders along the coastline of Sundarban Biosphere Reserve. When I decided to work directly in the field of wildlife, I dreamt of being associated in studying birds scientifically, especially the migrating population. That dream finally came true as I am now officially working as a researcher on the above mentioned project; the one which I’ve dreamt with eyes open for so long. I can’t explain properly how I get involved into this.
Retro Kolkata : Where would you like to be in 10 years time and what are you going to do in the next 6 months to get closer to that goal?
Debarpan Datta : Now, this is a real gem of a question and I put a disclaimer over here that the answer will seem a bit strange. First of all, I would like to say that wildlife research and conservation projects can never be of any single individual, it always requires a strong compatible team to work collectively towards success. My dream of working in this field would never been possible if team Nature Mates was not there by my side. Working with wildlife is a very difficult profession where you have to work very hard for very to become financially established. When I was searching for any opportunity in this field my Idol Ms. Lipika Ray (IFS) suggested me about this organisation. I came here and was welcomed warmly and for the last four years I have witnessed so many difficulties to successfully execute any project related to wildlife; getting fund is the toughest part. Team Nature Mates collectively working in this field relentlessly, gradually is progressing where enthusiasts get the platform to pursue their interest in wildlife research and conservation. I wish to work successfully as a part of this team, successfully continue with my own research project with Nature Mates and establish this institution as a pioneer in the field of wildlife research. Our seniors struggled to provide us a better platform to work sincerely on our desired streams and now it’s our duty to carry on with this effort by successfully doing our work and strengthen this platform further so that after a few more years interested people can work with certainty of definite securities and therefore continue with same enthusiasm...On personal front I aspire to gain further knowledge in this field, learn and on that effort uncover the unknown variables of bird migration and the mysterious Sundarban landscape, and above everything generate immense awareness among people regarding conserving the unique habitat of Sundarbans. I wish to see myself in a place where Debarpan Datta, a researcher of Nature Mates will have a green army formed by the young people who are ready to devote their lives for the sake of safeguarding the Sundarbans. I wish to see myself in a place where I can confidently motivate young minds to join the field of wildlife welfare, where young students can choose wildlife research as a career confidently being inspired by the collective success gathered by team Nature Mates of which I am a happy representative.
To achieve the aforesaid goals we have set certain targets with timeline. As the migration has started already this season, the next six months will be high time for the entire team to work and strengthen the base of the migratory bird project in Sundarbans. Working to engage and involve young people in this project is the biggest challenge we are going to face over there and what we will try is to make them understand that we are working for the betterment of that entire habitat on which they are also very much dependant. These next six months will really be instrumental in shaping the future of this effort which on a long run will answer good many questions about this specific landscape. So one thing I can certainly say, we are going to make these six months count in the best possible way. On a collective front, Team Nature Mates is working on different projects at present and fortunately we have a team where every member is ready to help others in their specific works. So as a team we have works scheduled and well planned for the next six months to put a step forward to achieve our huge goal that I’ve mentioned earlier.