She is not a trained or professional photographer. For many years, Juhi Saklani used to be a travel writer for a national magazine, and this led to photography. “It was encouraging when some images got published. Slowly the realisation dawned that I was happiest when I was photographing. So I spent several fulfilling years learning from artist friends, reading up, improving my equipment, and practising. This process is still on,” she says.
Her project on trees is a deeply personal as well as political one. “Trees, for me, have been friends, deities, and awe-inspiring works of art. Sometime back, I had to move to a part of Delhi that was highly concretised and congested. I was taken aback by the angst I felt, and found myself hugging trees in parks for solace,” she says, Soon, she started shooting them, from about the same height and distance — a series she called ‘Intimate Conversations’.
She goes on to say, “I am aware that I owed this vocabulary of hugging trees to generations of thinkers and activists before me. For example, from the women of the Chipko movement in my native Uttarakhand, who embraced trees to protect them from felling. Nowadays when I hear news of thousands of trees being cut for ‘smart’ city projects or river interlinking, I turn to them with my camera to look for relief and inspiration.”
It was her Photosphere mentor Aditya Arya who suggested that she try to work with trees and roots that emerge from old buildings and walls. “It was a superb suggestion because it included my love for trees and gave me some highly sculptural and dramatic images. Many thinkers say that our current ecological crisis began with our faulty understanding that the ‘human’ is not part of ‘nature’, that nature is something separate, to be used, exploited, enjoyed… I love how in these trees, nature forces itself out of the boundaries made for it, insisting that it will not be kept in a separate niche,” she adds.
Talking about the challenges she says, “Being a solitary woman out on the streets at all times of the day and night can sometimes feel challenging. A lot of energy goes in dealing with men who feel they can comment, or curious people who assume I must be a foreigner (since I have a backpack and wear no visible signs of religion or marital status). But there are very lovely conversations too. And a lot of energy goes in planning what to do about washroom visits,” she quips....