By Kelly Zwicker
This week we are celebrating another international photographer with a passion for capturing the beautiful elephant family. Her name is Gowri Varanashi. Gowri is based out of Bangalore, India, and she is an avid adventurer and environmentalist.
Gowri's love of photography began when she would borrow her father's Pentax film camera as a young girl. She would take it on school trips and practice her photography skills, and her father would mentor her on how to improve. Photography allows Gowri to share what she sees through her lens with other people, which she loves to do because she is able to increase public awareness of the wildlife she photographs. "In the conservation field, this is even more important" she says, "because those of us that work in the field, on the front lines of these issues, need to be able to show the world what is happening to these species and ecosystems and cultures." Gowri finds photography to be a powerful way of communicating, or in other words, meaningful visual storytelling.
A major theme of Gowri's biography is her desire to adventure. Gowri feels a constant pull to adventure at all times, and claims it brings her out to nature and the outdoors more frequently. "It’s what awakens me from the monotony of everyday life, which enables me to have a happy, healthy state of mind," she says. Gowri has learned from her adventures, and through the lens, that there is always more to learn about the world and the beautiful creatures it holds.
Speaking of those creatures, one of Gowri's fondest memories is of an amusing interaction she had with an elephant. She and her husband were with a forest ranger in one of India's national parks when the ranger spotted an elephant. The elephant was in fact right next to them on the dirt road, completely silent and stopped in its tracks. "We realized the elephant was in fact right next to us off the road," Gowri recalls, "mostly hidden by bushes but a large patch of its grey, wrinkled skin was visible in the center. I can never forget it." It was a waiting game of who was going to move first, but Gowri and her husband were loving just being in the elephant's presence.
Gowri likes to consistently photograph Indian elephants. "As a photographer, an elephant is captivating because it’s like shooting a mountain range" she says, "a sentient landscape." A major reason Gowri feels closer to this particular species is because she was raised in India. She grew up witnessing their place in the wild, chewing vegetation and moving seeds through the ecosystem. They are such pillars to the growth of ecosystems, practically builders of the forests in Africa and India, keystone species that protect and enhance wildlife habitat.
The initiative to combine fashion and conservation is exciting for Gowri, given her past feelings of how fashion has taken advantage of wildlife in a negative way. "Black caiman (an important Amazonian apex-predator) almost became extinct because of the demand for their hides in the 50’s and 60’s" she recalls, "Then of course there is the ongoing battle with fur products and black markets." There has definitely been animal abuse in the fashion industry in the past, and sustainable practices are essential to not repeat history.
"To bring conservation and fashion together is really unique because it’s a very unexpected partnership" Gowri says, "and it continues the super-sheik tradition that Peter Beard started a few decades ago."
Gowri recognizes the global need to keep elephants walking this earth, as well as their sentience. Elephants are indeed incredibly intelligent and emotionally driven. "They are also the largest terrestrial species on our planet" she adds, "I can't imagine a world without elephants."
When Gowri was asked what she wants to see most in the animal conservation movement, she wants people to stop creating such a bold separation between humans and nature. People do not often accept that animals are highly intelligent. Gowri recited a quote from Einstein: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree….” This quote is a powerful message to humans. We need to understand that we do not have a right over other animal species. They walk this earth with as much purpose as we do, just in a completely different way.
And we shouldn't have to. With more individuals like Gowri to spread awareness and outwardly promote the importance and beauty of the elephant family, we have strength in numbers to not let these creatures be led to extinction. We must not have a limited mindset; we must create empathy and protect other species because each one is inherently valuable.
For more updates on future features and the efforts of Fashion for Conservation, please follow along with our blog here, as well as on our social media accounts and Facebook page! Merchandise purchases to support the cause and our current campaign Elephantasia are available on our website as well.
Thanks for reading! xx
Gowri's pages and information:
Instagram: @gowrivaranashi and @gowri_varanashi
Staff bio for Tamandua Expeditions: https://tamanduajungle.com/gowri-varanashi/
The Fashion for Conservation Team