Obituary: TNA Perumal

Obituary: TNA Perumal

The doyen of Pictorial Wildlife Photography Shri TNA Perumal is no more.

Master photographer Thanjavur Nateshacharya Ayyam Perumal was born in pre-independence India in 1932 and has breathed his last in Bangalore on 8th February, 2017.

TNA Perumal (1932-2017)

TNA Perumal (1932-2017)

Popularly known as TNA Perumal, he was a prolific photographer with more than 200 awards/merits and 1500+ acceptances in International photography salons. In 1983 he was awarded the Master Photographer of the French Federation de l’Art Photographique. In 2012, he was awarded the Life time achievement award for Wildlife photography by Government of India, Photo Division.

I met him at the autumn of his life. When I look back at our interactions, I see him as a pictorialist at work. He was not concerned about just running after any rare species. Check with any of the nature photographers today, they all believe that the essence to wildlife photography is a long lens and a camera which can shoot at fast burst and clicking tigers or other such charismatic mega fauna. On the contrary, Shri Perumal was content with carrying just a 70-300 lens as he told me that the lens is light enough and doesn’t tire him at all. He used to ask me to stop at any place if the light is good and used to click any common subject. Other photographers may sneer at him clicking “even langurs and deers”, however he brought out the beauty of each species.

In a section of psychology called Transaction Analysis, there is a ego state called Child ego state and termed as Little Professor. It is that state when you are curious to know about things. After shooting during the day, when we were shooting side by side – he with his 70-300 and I with a Canon 400 f2.8 L IS lens – he used to specifically ask me to show my shots in the laptop and we used to discuss compositions and the reason for shooting it. He was unlike other experts who would simply dismiss others composition as bad. He was sure about his art, but was equally curious to know what kind of compositions I did with a long lens and the psyche behind such compositions. I realised that to him, perhaps life is a continuous learning. His curiosity never left him behind.

He told me that according to him a good image should have the subject anywhere between 1/3rd to 2/3rd of the frame and the rest should be left to showcase the habitat. This helps in showing the linkage between the subject and its relationships with the environment. He was not too happy with the bird on a stick ie photograph of a bird on a branch with the entire background blurred.

He had seen the rapid decline of our wilderness areas and wildlife in and around bangalore as well as around the country. During our journeys he used to point out the places where he used to find blackbucks roaming around and now there is not a shred of vegetation visible. I was fortunate to atleast visualise the wildlife and wilderness places in the early 1900s.

He was a master of the dark room and we had long discussions about editing raw images. With increasing use of digital, developing black and white in a dark room took a backseat. So in 2005, when M. Krishnan’s book “Eye in the Jungle” was being brought out by Shanti Chandola and Ashish Chandola, it was TNA Perumal who did justice to the negatives and developed the images as M. Krishnan would have done. Sadly, now we have virtually no one with those kinds of knowledge.

I was also able to get to know his ethical nature. During my early days, I was especially impressed by a black and white image of an elephant in rain by Shri M. Y. Ghorpade, former minister in Karnataka Govt. and last Maharaja of Sandur. Shri Perumal told me that they were together on that day when their vehicle had got punctured and the elephant was infront of them. Both of them created similar compositions. Shri M. Y. Ghorphade got many awards and accolades for the image. However, TNA never shared his image. He said, it would not be right because already M.Y.Ghorpade’s image has won award and sharing another version of the same image would not be proper. Today, a boss and subordinate would fight bitterly to claim that each others image is better.

Having worked with and observed other famous photographers like M. Y. Ghorpade, M. Krishnan as well as someone who knew Kenneth Anderson and his son Donald Anderson, TNA Perumal was a treasure trove of information. Shri Perumal had expressed his interest to visit Corbett and he wanted to travel with me. However, initially my corporate job and then later other mundane events kept us away and I could never have the pleasure of being with him in a jungle for a long time to download such rare to find information and pearls of wisdom.

As mere mortals, our innings in life has a finite end date. No man, how-so-ever good he might be, is not destined to be on this earth forever. Nevertheless, falling of such a big tree – even though we take for granted and behave as if each tree will be there forever – suddenly makes us sit up and notice the void that is now left behind. It fills us with regret as it is not only a great opportunity lost for the younger generation to benefit from his wisdom, but also in today’s world where mediocrity is instantly celebrated through facebook and other likes, his inspiring personality will be missed.

Rest in Peace TNA Perumal!


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