Staying true to life | Sunday Observer

Staying true to life

The camera I got was an unexpected gift. A friend of my father perhaps as a repayment for a favour, brought down a beautifully packed little camera bag that contained a Praktica B200, and two lenses, a 50mm and 135mm.

That was the second important step in my photography journey. The first was getting the membership of the National Photographic Art Society in 1989.

1991 was my freshman year at the Colombo Medical Faculty. My little camera helped me to earn a prominent place among the photography enthusiasts of the Faculty. In the same year I completed my three-year diploma at the National Photographic Art Society.

My final year dissertation for the diploma was a thesis on the progression of paintings and photography. By 1995 I had an award-winning collection of photographs that had been honoured at national level competitions. My first photography exhibition, Nimesha (Moments). was held in August 1995 and fifty of these photographs exhibited at the Lionel Wendt Gallery. Although those images were not on a single theme, they had beautiful and meaningful moments crystallized on print, hence the name ‘moments.’ At the time I knew nothing about Henry Caritier Bresson or the idea of ‘Decisive Moment’. However, looking back at them now, I feel most of the images of Moments – 1995 belonged to a hastily urbanising era during which, travel as well as the documentation of travel with small cameras started to become popular.

Except for a few seniors in the photography field, no one showed much interest in the exhibition. I believe, living in an island where a culture of dialogue and critique on photography, art and artistic expression via images was non-existent, and being oblivious to what was happening elsewhere in the world of art would have contributed to this lack of interest.

Moments 2019 is a set of visions unveiled before my eyes while I was travelling to many parts of the world with my family; I felt they were too good to be left alone without being documented.

The people in the images of Moments 2019 are those who have momentarily unloaded the weight of their labour and livelihoods. The leisure they are enjoying, their smiles or the thoughtfulness you see in the images are perhaps an integral part of their daily struggle in particular and of the entire mankind in general.

I wanted to make Moments 2019 a narrow conceptual bridge to a definitive aesthetic-political terrain rather than a pseudo artistic endeavour that completely hinders the true purpose of photography.

I personally believe this approach towards content, and the relative lack of overzealous formal manoeuvres is a departure from contemporary Sri Lankan street photography. Endless editing to achieve a supposed formal perfection is a trend in neo-pictorialism. According to Ed Peters, a contemporary New York street photographer, this approach creates constructed abstractions. I believe this approach destroys the true documentary as well as the socio-political value of the visual expression.

Most of the images of Moments 2019 are uncropped images. Even the few cropped ones still retain the original aspect ratio making them stay true to what I saw through the viewfinder. No attempt has been made to beautify these images and push them to the realm of neo-pictorialism.

These images differ from contemporary press photographs due to the lack of intent in telling stories. I don’t try to push ideologies via these images, instead I wish the viewer would see the multifacetedness of these images and grasp the complexities in expression as well as interpretation. In a way this is an attempt to stay true to the documentary nature of photography and not to become a victim of neo-pictorialism.

I hope these images would reiterate the natural socio-political documentary nature of the travel photograph. I also hope these will show a new dimension and a path to the contemporary young Sri Lankan photographer who tries to be another glittering star in the photography field while unknowingly becoming a victim of neo-pictorialism without understanding the purpose of visual expression.

Igniting a dialogue in the mind of the viewer and opening doors to a complete aesthetic experience is the intention of Moments 2019.