A black and white poetry: Ian Lockwood shares his intuitive musings for the latest Sky Islands Exhibition at NCPA Mumbai

NOV 23, 2023 | By Pratishtha Rana
New Year’s Morning Panorama, Coaker’s Walk, Palani Hills; The sun rises over the Palani Hills as seen from the ever-popular Coaker’s Walk. Perumal Peak, the distinctive hat-shaped mountain, dominates the lower valleys in the east. The slopes below Coaker’s Walk were once native grasslands that hosted the famous kurinji plant (Strobilanthes kunthiana) that blooms in 12-year cycles. In recent years invasive Lantana plants have taken over the hillside. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood
Perumal from Coakers, Palani Hills; Perumal Malai, the prominent hat-shaped mountain rises above the eastern Palani Hills. The mountain has been witness to significant changes in the Sky Island landscape of these hills. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood
Rhododendron arboretum series in mist, Palani Hills; Rhododendron arboreum trees are closely associated with undisturbed montane grasslands. These habitats are a key part of the shola/grassland mosaic that once covered the landscapes of the southern Western Ghats sky islands. The expansion of non-native timber plantations across much of the Palani and Nilgiri hills has greatly changed vegetation and biodiversity patterns. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood
Southern escarpment & Sky Islands, Palani Hills; The southern escarpment of the Palani Hills, seen rising above winter haze, illustrates the uniqueness of the upper areas of the Palani Hills Sky Islands. Steep cliffs covered in grasses and shola patches drop from 2,000 meters to the plains below. The nearby Agamalai range (center left) and more distant Highwavy (far left) and Cardamom hills are visible. Today the upper plateau of the Palani Hills has been completely transformed by the large-scale planation of non-native timber species. The ecological, hydrological and cultural impact of this dramatic change in my lifetime has been profound. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood

If you think keenly enough, photographs are portals to a world, where the vocabulary of our universal languages doesn’t exist. And with black and white imageries on the moodboard, photographs sans colour reignite a gentle but an almost searing moment of awareness that lingers in the memory long after one has experienced it. Cue, Sky Islands Exhibition: An Endangered Indian Landscape’ — an intuitive black and white photo series that is a thought-stirring consequence of photographer Ian Lockwood’s relationship with the temper of nature, the city life and everything in between! 

In an exclusive conversation with ELLE DECOR India, Ian, who’s also a writer and an educator, tells us, “My parents brought me to live in Mysore when I was a few weeks old in 1970. Many decades have now passed and I’ve been in close orbit to Mother India, if not in her embrace for much of this time.” But how does he describe his relationship with India and its landscapes? He muses, “When I think of the idea of India, I’m reminded of the ancient parable of the blind men and an elephant. A group of people, who are all visually impaired must depend on their other senses to understand the world. Each of them reaches out to touch this strange, mysterious creature. Each has a valid understanding of what they experience but it is different from the others. Yet, they’re all experiencing the same creature.”

As Ian informs, for several decades, he has developed prowess in presenting black and white landscape visions of the Western Ghats. Thus, The Sky Islands Exhibition becomes a defining aspect of his works. Scroll below to dive into the photographs…

View Sky Island Exhibition: An Endangered Landscape, in aid of Kodaikanal International School’s Center for Environment and Humanity (KIS CEH) at The Dilip Piramal Photography Gallery inside National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai from November 23rd to December 3rd, 2023.

Now read:  Art Beyond the Frame: DAG’s ‘City as a Museum’ Celebrates the Contextual Essence of Art in Kolkata

Montane Grasses in eucalyptus forest, Perumal Malai, Palani Hills; Many timber plantations in the Palani Hills still show evidence of their historical vegetation. These montane grasslands are somehow surviving on the slopes of Perumal Peak. Areas like this are ideal for careful restoration efforts that allow the grasses to make a comeback. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood


Alsophila nilgirensis and Falls, Pambarpuram, Palani Hills; The Sky Island landscapes of the southern Western Ghats host a variety of species found nowhere else. Alsophila nilgirensis is a species of tree fern endemic to the Sky Island landscapes of southern India. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood


Old Cemetery in twilight, Kodaikanal, Palani Hills; The Old Cemetery on the edge of Bombay Shola in Kodaikanal hosts historic memorials amidst native and introduced vegetation. Today, thanks to the energy and dedication of a feisty and protective neighbor, Bombay Shola is home to several key endemic shola birds and is frequently visited by a herd of gaur. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood


Alsophila crinita at Bombay Shola, Palani Hills; Tree ferns are key endemic species of the Sky Islands. Species such as Alsophila crinita date back to an age before flowering plants. Their biogeography shows Gondwanaland affiliation-related species are found in Sky Islands habitats that once shared a land bridge with the Western Ghats/Sri Lanka zone. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood


Shola crown from below, Bombay Shola, Palani Hills; Sholas are montane evergreen forests that are a key part of the shola/grasslands mosaic unique to the Sky Islands of the Western Ghats. They are found in pockets protected from wind and fire and where there is more moisture. The classic shola is a small patch of forests but several large examples still exist in the Palani Hills. Shola’s are cloud forests- a vegetation type that derives moisture from clouds found across tropical montane habitats. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood


Rhododendron arboreum at Horton Plains NP, Sri Lanka; The Sky Islands of the southern Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot are notable for their high levels of endemic species. Rhododendron arboreum is a fire-resistant tree species found on the edges of sholas or scattered in montane grasslands. The species is found in both the southern Western Ghats and Sri Lanka above 1,800 meters. It has genetic ties with the numerous species of Rhododendrons in the eastern Himalaya. Photo Courtesy Ian Lockwood