PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Annette Bonnier – Elephant Whisperer
Who are you? I am a local Miami woman, born and raised here. I am a photographer, a horticulturist who collects rare plants, designer (I designed our island style house) and I am a mother and wife. I love to sail, snorkel and spearfish in the Bahamas. I love art of all kinds.
What do you do in real life? I am a freelance photographer working on my personal projects.
What do you like most about what you do? People!
Absolutely love taking photos of? People in interesting cultures and lives. I love artistic people and find people on the edge of society interesting.
What do you typically shoot? I love to shoot people in their culture, backstage, behind the scenes and interesting lifestyles.
Recent shoot you are excited about? India’s Elephants! The last time that I was in India, I shot photos of elephants in temples blessing people. Beautiful and moving.
Wildest experience on a shoot? Swimming underwater with a large tusker elephant in the Andaman Islands. We were worried about crocodiles in the area as a woman had been attacked perviously and killed. Yet the experience of swimming with such a large animal that was usually land bound was amazing. He was so graceful and beautiful but at any moment he could swipe me with his tusk and kill me.
Tell us about your new book India’s Elephants – India’s Elephants offers candid images of mahouts (keepers) and the elephants with which they work. The photo book is organized by themes including elephants in their natural habitat, decoratively painted and beaded for religious festivals, blessing patrons in temples, and captivating underwater photography showing elephants swimming in the ocean. By contrast, the elephants are captured interacting with humanity and the country’s booming industrialism: performing and training in the local circus, partaking in elephant polo for sport, interacting with ogling tourists and their cameras, and working in the state logging industry.
Why elephants? On my first trip to India I became fascinated with several tourist elephants that were kept in a cement garage for the Amber Fort. My first photographs captured them chained to the floor with the mahout standing attentively next to them. The lives of the elephants and their keeper moved me. Both were shackled to poverty and a lifetime of indenture yet a spiritual bond existed between them that embraced a deep sense of reverence for the elephant. Throughout India elephants are respected as a spiritual animal, and Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, is venerated as one of the highest deities in the Hindu religion. However, there is an unusual dichotomy in the role of the elephant in Indian society, which wavers between the animal as an enlightened, spiritual being and as a beast of burden. This image left me with an amazingly sad beauty that I couldn’t get out of my mind.
What is the next project you are working on? Possibly Africa!
Bonnier will sign and discuss India’s Elephants on March 7 at 6:30pm at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave; Coral Gables. For info: booksandbooks.com