It started because Sarang Naik was broke. As a college student and amateur photographer in Mumbai he yearned for the wilderness but travelling to faraway sanctuaries didn’t fit his shoestring budget. That’s when he turned his trusty camera towards the city — spending hours walking alone through urban forests, shooting flamingos in a wetland near his home, and photographing seagulls at the Gateway of India. In March 2017, at the crack of dawn, he followed members of a citizen science collective, Marine Life of Mumbai, to Marine Drive. Instead of walking along the promenade, the motley crew climbed over the ledge, and cautiously stepped on the four-legged tetrapods lining the coast. The tide was low. Standing on a slippery rock, surrounded by Mumbai’s murky waters, looking into the tide pools, Naik found a whole new world, that surpassed his wildest dreams, opening up.
Tide pools or “intertidal ecosystems” are one of Mumbai’s best kept secrets. John Steinbeck, the Nobel-prize winning American author, described tide pools as “ferocious with life,” and compared their richness to tropical rainforests. When the tide retreats, it leaves behind shallow pools that stay trapped in the shore’s rocky gaps and cracks. Some of the pools are large enough for a dip, others are palm-sized, but each one pulses with life.
Naik’s first years of exploring Mumbai’s intertidal areas were spent obsessively documenting everything. As time passed, his photographs evolved, and turned into a project to change how we perceive the city itself — as sites of wilderness, not just as ruthless engines of growth. His photographs began to hero wild creatures, while the city was merely the backdrop. And what better way and time to do it than when the sun sets and the city lights up in all its twinkling splendour. Naik spent two years meticulously planning this new project — learning where to spot these creatures, at what time of year, and then matched the location with the schedule of the tide to get the perfect twilight shots. “In some cases, a low tide coincided with the perfect evening light only about five to six times a year,” says Naik, who spent four years putting together this collection. “But it was worth the trouble.”