Despite being one of the most recognised and beloved animals in the world, it is estimated that there are only around 5,000 tigers left in the wild globally, and of that, fewer than 100 Malayan tigers.
More needs to be done, and time is running out.
In an effort to raise awareness on the urgency of the issue, Britain-based global conservation initiative Save Wild Tigers has brought to Kuala Lumpur its Eye On The Tiger photography exhibition, the world's largest wild tiger photography exhibition that features 30 of the world’s leading international photographers.
The exhibition, which brings together 60 of the most stunning photographs taken of tigers over the past few decades, is on display at The Starhill and Lot 10 until Oct 22.
Having previously been shown at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the selected photos come from acclaimed photographers from around the world, including United States, India, Britain, Germany, Japan and Russia, as well as two acclaimed photographers from Malaysia – SC Shekar and Sanjitpaal Singh.
The images will be showcased largely in the atrium of The Starhill, with 10 works being exhibited in the Taiwanese bookstore eslite spectrum (located in the same mall). There will also be a series of informative public forums on tiger conservation and photography at eslite spectrum in the coming weekends.
“If no action is taken, wild tigers could be extinct in just 10 years across Asia and potentially less than 10 years in Malaysia,” says Simon Clinton, founder of Save Wild Tigers.
“The aim of the Eye On The Tiger exhibition is to inspire the public to join us in taking action to save what is surely one of the most beautiful creatures alive today. We do not want this to be the only lasting record that they ever existed on our precious planet,” he adds.
By sheer luck
The photo exhibited by Shekar is a captivating black and white image of an adult tiger sitting in a tree, its reflection shimmering in the water below it.
“It was pure chance. I’m not a wildlife photographer, by any means. In 1987, I was living in an Orang Asli village in Jerantut, Pahang, documenting the Ja Hut people, who are known for being excellent trackers," says Shekar about the story behind how he caught this photograph.
“One day, they told me there was a tiger eating their dogs. So we decided to try and see if we could photograph the tiger. We waited for four nights before the opportunity finally came. I was using film at the time, so it wasn’t easy to set up the shot, but luckily, I managed to get this one,” he adds.
Shekar shares that the tiger was about 100m to 150m away from him and his companions.
“I felt a chill running up my spine as it made eye contact with me, and in the blink of an eye, it vanished.”
That was the first and last time Shekar encountered a tiger in the wild, and he hopes that his photo, as well as the others in the exhibition, will inspire Malaysians to further support local tiger conservation efforts.
A symbol of hope
As a seasoned wildlife and nature photographer, Sanjitpaal insists on keeping mum on the stories behind his tiger images.
“A magician can’t share their secrets,” he says with a smile.
He does share that his photos are part of a series called Coming Into The Light.
“Having chased elusive moments across Malaysia, it’s a surreal joy to witness my works showcase in an international exhibition now gracing the soil of my home country.
“I aspire these images to be a symbol of hope, as you can see the tiger emerging from the darkness.
"Through these images, I hope to share the untamed essence of our wildlife and inspire us all to protect the precious ecosystems they call home,” says Sanjitpaal.
Telling a story through photos
Malaysian artist-turned-curator Ivan Gabriel says he was approached by Save Wild Tigers last year to curate Eye On The Tiger thanks to his prior experience with Belang, an art exhibition in Penang in 2020 that raised awareness about the importance of protecting the Malayan tiger.
“Being Malaysian, I have insight on which photos would work best in Malaysia. For example, I know that Malaysians love cute things and value familial bonds. Those were some of the things I considered when choosing which photos would be featured in the exhibition,” says Gabriel.
He adds that the photos were arranged in such a way that they tell a larger story.
“What drives my curatorial practice is the art of storytelling. I think about how artworks speak, and I like when the pieces in an exhibition have a dialogue with each other rather than just presenting them in a straightforward manner,” he explains.
The final two photos at the end of the "story" told by the exhibition are by Russian photographer Vladimir Medvedev – the second to last photo shows a Siberian tiger walking through snow, while the final photo merely depicts a tiger’s paw prints in the snow, heading towards an unknown future.
Gabriel says it’s meant to be thought-provoking.
“I want visitors to leave the exhibition wondering: will our generation be the last to exist alongside tigers?”
Perhaps the least we can do is to support those who are taking action to ensure the continued survival of tigers, using whatever means we have.
The Eye On The Tiger photography exhibition in Kuala Lumpur is showing at The Starhill until Oct 8 and at Lot 10 from Oct 9-22.