5 JOURNEYS AND THEIR ECOLOGICAL ADVOCACIES
Humanity & Earth Photography Exhibition
Within a photograph, a two-dimensional film developed and captured by an artist, speaks a thousand words, narrating their journey and experiences, encapsulating thoughts and feelings, anecdotes inspired from an adventure. These photographs that you see recount the stories of a few individuals who’ve trekked across the country – the commencement of the Humanity & Earth Group photography exhibition at the Harold Peiris Gallery in September 2020 marked the conclusion of the three-year project in which the Goethe-Institut Sri Lanka engaged with two experienced photographers from Germany who mentored a small and diverse group of environmentally engaged photographers from different parts of Sri Lanka. The event exhibited finds from around the island that the artists captured to understand and acknowledge a story, one that outlines that which isn’t always visible to the naked eye. These photographs navigate the lives of people or humanity, the ecological grievances, unresolved conflicts between humanity striving for development and the natural environment.
The project launched with an open photography call in 2018, which motivated young Sri Lankan photographers to submit work samples on the topic of environmental protection. Andy Spyra and Liz Fernando selected a group of talented young photographers, who were invited to join the road trip that took the young photographers from Colombo via Kalpitiya to Ella and back to Colombo. From these locations, various stations were visited, which exemplify the influence of human on the environment and thus stimulate discussion about the relationship between human and earth and the issue of sustainability. The Humanity & Earth project then conducted a Masterclass to enable the photographers to delve even deeper into their individual projects and work towards exhibition of their work.
“Usually in photography, and especially in German photography, there is a tendency to overthink images until there are no emotions left. Shooting with the Holga was a more direct and emotional approach to photography that relied on instincts—not light and composition and all the other ingredients that usually define a ‘good’ photograph.” Andy Spyra is a German photographer, who was born in 1984 in Hagen. After graduation, he traveled through Central America and Southeast Asia, where he discovered his love for photography. From 2007 to 2009 he studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the University of Applied Sciences in Hannover.
“In Sri Lanka, my father’s place of birth, humidity destroys the photographic object in a painful, slow and unstoppable process until it vanishes completely, as though it had never existed. It is a story ambiguous and ungraspable, it is the story of the lost photographs of my father’s childhood and also allows space for the viewer to reconnect with his own memories.” Liz Fernando, a German of Sri Lankan descent, is an award-winning artist and photographer. She holds a degree from the prestigious LCC photography programme at the University of Arts, London. So strong is her published work “Trincomalee – My father’s stories and the lost photographs” that it has found its way into the permanent private collection of the World Bank Headquarters in Washington D.C.
5 PHOTGRAPHIC EXHIBITS THAT TALK ABOUT HUMANITY & EARTH
1. TASHIYA DE MEL is a communications specialist, photographer, and environmental advocate from Colombo, Sri Lanka. After attaining a BA in Psychology from the University of Melbourne, Australia, she has spent most of her career working in different industries ranging from start-ups, to nonprofits, and the United Nations where she has specialized in communications, advocacy, visual and social media. Tashiya is the founder and owner of, ‘Lost in Ceylon', a platform that showcases off-the-beaten-path adventures and highlights ways to travel responsibly.
“My (ongoing) photo series aims to explore the consequences of hydropower expansion on the Mahaweli river, and the cascading impacts on our natural world and the local communities that depend on it. Impacts that are not always visible, and some, deliberately concealed from the public. This includes the loss of endemics species and unique habitats, disturbance of migratory routes, displacement of local communities, and the growth of collateral industries such as mining, logging, and agriculture, and most importantly, the impacts on local communities who are being robbed of their birthright; the natural world that surrounds them.” Tashiya’s images comprehend the consequences of the hydropower expansion while seeking the lives of the people now, in chaos and destruction. Each capture instils in the viewer an understanding of the lives if change were to not take place, a change for the better, a way to reconnect with the Earth.
2. MUNIRA MUTAHER & SHEHAN OBEYSEKARA are photographers who’ve captured Atanwala’s journey in transformation from its village days to the now modern set of tourist attractions. Their photography and film capture the way the village changes, its culture being forgotten and the villagers themselves evolutionizing. Munira and Shehan encapsulate within their work the voyage taken and the voyage overlooked. “This project is rooted in the tensions and realities of this moment of transformation of a forest-dependent community steeped at the edge of the Knuckles mountain range, in Sri Lanka, on the border between wilderness and civilization. Atanwala lies at the base of the increasingly popular Manigala hiking route, and attracts a slew of tourists through the season. In the last year, it saw its first main road being built, its first shop set up, a house-front being converted to a car park for visitors, its first encounters with elephants, and a city dweller starting construction on his house in the midst of this mountain village.”
Munira Mutaher is a photographer and cultural practitioner from Colombo. Her work draws from her background in storytelling, and social and creative entrepreneurship. Between 2016 and 2018 she worked on the book Voices of Peace to intimately document the stories of 10 former cadres and 10 Sri Lankan military personnel who actively fought on the frontlines. She also founded Tell a Tale, a participatory photography project to reframe the narratives of young marginalized women in Sri Lanka. Her camera tends to follows her curiosity as she documents and reflects on cultural and personal encounters, underlined by the modern pace of life. She is currently focusing on long-term projects on the themes of friendship and public rituals. Following a recent photography program in Europe, she has also been diving into the study of visual practices, curation, and visual archiving. Munira currently works with GIZ Sri Lanka. Here, she co-curates a history museum that travels across the country and manages the Archive of Memory, which uses text and visual storytelling to reflect on 70 years since the island’s independence.
Shehan Obeysekara is a multi-disciplinary artist, photographer and filmmaker, based in Kadawatha, Sri Lanka. He has spent years traveling extensively around the island photographing nature, and the people and places that surround them. During these journeys’ he has observed immense beauty, decay and the subtle and loud tensions in the relationship between nature and human society.
3. RAMANATHAN PARILOJITHAN is a photographer and artist from Batticaloa, a coastal town in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. His work is strongly influenced by the abundance of the natural surroundings that he grew up in and deeply concerned about preserving these landscapes. After graduating from the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts, University of Jaffna he moved to Colombo in 2018 and co-founded the interactive visual art project “We are from here” with artists Firi Rahman and Vicky Shahjahan with the aim of exploring and showing all sides of Colombo’s Slave Island community. Parlojithan has had two solo exhibitions “Colombollage” at Alliance Francaise de Jaffna (2019) and “Nostalgia” at the Ramanathan Accademy, Jaffna (2018) and had his work featured in many group exhibitions such as the Éclair Open Studio at Theertha (2020), Kochi Muziris Student Biennale (2018), Colomboscope Re/evolution (2017), Permutations and Possibilities at Theerta (2018) and many others. Parilojithan is also an ARTRA Canvas artist whose works featured on the platform spoke of his journey recorded on ‘brown paper bags’.
“A research titled "Impact of dumping garbage and medical wastes along the lagoon side of Batticaloa" was conducted by me to study the destruction of fishery and water resources which result in an unstable livelihood for the families dependent on fisheries. Large amount of garbage, medical waste and human body parts are being dumped surrounding the Batticaloa lagoon by people with political influence, Maantheevu hospital management and others.” His work follows the life of a villager, the way he eats, sleeps and lives – through Parilojithan’s work we realize the devastation and loss face due to these mishaps and deliberate destruction; how can one continue to live so? In his photographs, Parilojithan showcases and portrays as we witness landscapes of which each cell is made up garbage strewn. But this questions, each capture a trial, how can Mother Nature reclaim her body?
4. SANDRANATHAN RUBATHEESAN is a freelance journalist currently attached to the Sunday Times, Colombo. He took up photography as a hobby and later started exploring its possibilities to tell visual stories rather than through words. He shares his time between Colombo and his home town in Jaffna where he found a new love for farming.
“Humans, like other beings, depend on Earth for daily survival but they dig their own grave slowly but steadily by disturbing the natural habitat equilibrium. At last, they would become the ultimate dust, buried in the sand or mixed in water and air. These images, made in the recent past during my travels around the island are my personal reflections of how humans interact with nature and my role as a witness with so many questions.” Sandranathan Rubatheesan narrates his captures in diary entries, penning down his thoughts and encapsulating his perceptions. From sky waterfalls to the scene of chaotic fire, he relives each life and allows the audience to do so too.
5. THARMAPALAN TILAXAN is an independent photographer based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka who has been doing people photography for 11 years. As a photographer in Jaffna, he performs a dual role of working as an archivist as well as an artist. He collects old photographs and documents on Sri Lankan culture and environment from old well-known studios, studio persons and society and has started building an archive for the vintage photography history of Jaffna. Tilaxan is the Founder of the Jaffna Photography Society (2019) as well as the Jaffna Vintage Photo Archive (2020).
“Gurunagar is a densely populated coastal village in Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka. Many residents of Gurunagar are fishermen: according to government records, 2313 fishing families are living in this small area. The Gurunagar fishing jetty is now entirely covered with garbage and plastic waste: the Marine Department states that 82% of the beach is completely polluted. The pollution is not limited to the dock but also occurred surroundings the whole village.” Photographer Tharmapalan Tilaxan poses though his work straight-forward visions of the ugly actions taken place around Gurunagar. Each image, a startling reality and sad misdeeds – how can they carry on?