Pooja tells us how her work takes her around the world documenting the natural world and communicating conservation through a range of different creative mediums. In the setting of the Peruvian Amazon, with the sounds of the jungle as background noise to the interview, she gives us an insight into her fascinating, thought-provoking work and gives advice as to how you can follow in her inspiring footsteps.
What does being a visual artist entail?
As a visual artist, my work lies at the intersection of art and science, using a range of mixed media, I conceptualise and visualise various communication projects linked to the natural world. The main mediums I work with include: film, photography, animation, graphic design and traditional drawing. I choose the medium or mix of media for each individual project that will communicate the concept most effectively.
What role does your work play in conservation?
My work aids in communicating conservation work effectively by making it aesthetically interesting, so people are more willing to listen to the messages of scientists and other key players in conservation.
A specific example of this is when I worked as a science communicator for two years at a research station on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, India. I created a film which communicated the work of scientists studying the impacts of spotted deer on lizards on the islands. This film was then screened at a conference on invasive species to encourage finding solutions through a policy-level discussion with the Andaman Islands Forest Department.
I think visual language has the power to create considerable changes because visuals transcend words. Everyone has the same understanding of what a tree looks like but if I say the word “tree” in different languages many people will not understand. Having a common visual language helps break communication barriers and allows us to explain the same point to many different people in a simpler way. I enjoy this challenge of communicating issues to different audiences.
Why did you decide to choose a career in conservation?
It is important to conserve the natural world because as humans, we depend on nature and our surroundings, not the other way around. If we don’t take care of what we depend on we may lose it all. It may sound cheesy but if we lose our fish, if we lose our forests, then we lose the water we drink and the food we eat, it’s as simple as that.
What does a normal day look like for you?
What I really enjoy is that no day is the same. I could be filming, animating, illustrating and designing logos all within a couple of days. I usually have more than one project running at the same time and I get to explore and record many different ecosystems in many different places in the world. It keeps life very dynamic and exciting.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
A particularly rewarding part of my job is seeing my contributions make a positive difference and raise awareness for causes I am passionate about. For example I had an active role in an initiative ‘Know Your Fish’ which works towards sustainable fishing in Goa, India. I created the logo and designed the calendar guide that conveys to consumers such as restaurateurs when it is suitable to order and serve certain fish so that fish stocks stay replenished and fishing around Goa occurs sustainably.
Another great part of my job is that I get to travel, doing work which I love doing. My job has taken me on projects around the world, from creating a series of educational films on animals of the Maldives to assisting the running of a multimedia internship in the Peruvian Amazon for the Crees Foundation and teaching nature journaling to school students in Norway. It has also taken me throughout India, from filming Malabar pit vipers in the Western Ghats, to illustrating the ‘Marine Mammals of India’ identification guide used by many people including fishermen, researchers and scientists to collect valuable data on these species.
What do you always bring with you on an expedition?
Wherever I go I bring spices from home, usually burnt garlic pepper and red chilli garlic powder. These are as important to me as my camera and tripod. I add them to any field food I find too bland or just because I want a taste of home in the middle of a long and tiring assignment.
What advice do you have for people who want to follow in your footprints?
My advice for anyone starting out in this field is to pick up your camera, no matter what camera it is, get out into the natural world, wherever you find it, even if it’s your back garden and hit record. Start small, practice and get as much experience as possible. It takes a lot of effort and dedication but as long as you keep the passion going then the work will follow.
So don’t give up, get out there and do it – and don’t be afraid.