On a trip to Rajasthan, India, in 2007 with photojournalist Steve McCurry, photographer Annette Bonnier was touched by the lives of the elephants and the people of this legendary country. While photographing locals in rural villages, McCurry and Bonnier visited Amber Fort in Jaipur, a destination in which riding elephants is a traditional occurrence. Bonnier followed the elephant keepers (mahouts) and their beasts back to their home, a cement garage that housed five of them. Largely inspired by the spiritual bond between elephants and their keepers, Bonnier began to explore the history and conditions of these large animals.
“The more I spent time with elephants and learned about them, the more I began to fall in love with these animals and with India,” says Bonnier.
That interest and love intensified and, most recently, the Miami-based photographer trekked through India for more than three years, photographing the lives of domesticated and wild elephants. Bonnier captured images that reveal the varying personalities of these highly intelligent creatures. Those stunning pictures now come together in Bonnier’s first photo compilation book- India’s Elephants.
She features elephants in a wide range of situations: living in their natural habitats, in captivity or never far from their mahouts, trained to work for tourist’s rides or weddings, festivals or temple celebrations. Being admired for their spiritual presence often proves to be a saddening experience for these animals, and India’s Elephants does a superb job of exposing that emotion. Some of the most visually striking images contained in the book were of elephants adorned in beads and painted for religious commemorations while their counterparts, in the wild, swim freely underwater. Read more culture articles.
For Bonnier, her three-year experience in India is one she will never forget. It offered a scope of emotions: “Riding the logging elephant into the wild forests of Assam, I felt incredible freedom. Being blessed by a loving elephant in a temple in Southern India was emotionally stimulating; being charged by several female elephants in the wild scared the wits out of me but was extremely exciting.” She describes how laying on the ground while four large elephants surrounded her within inches of her head made her feel unexpected trust and calmness.
Proceeds from the sales of India’s Elephants benefit the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation in India, a non-profit trust that is actively involved in the conservation of the Asian Elephant. ■