'Unstill' story of a still photographer:
One day in May, not so long ago, a man who had, throughout his life,
tinkered with beauty through the eye of a camera, sat with a Writer in
his home in Nugegoda , sipping a steaming cup of coffee.
"Don't reveal my name till you reach the end of the article" he told
the Writer, looking almost like a real life James Bond, but with a
camera. "So much has already been written about me..." he turned his
lips down, opened his palms to the skies and declared a prophesy of
doom, "no one will read any further if they get to know who I am".
Zoological Gardens, Dehiwela
Thus began one of the most challenging articles I have ever
written.... Are you still with me even though you may have already
guessed who the protagonist of my story is? If the answer is yes and if
you decide to read on, you are in for a pleasant surprise.
For, today the Legend whose life story you may think you know from
the opening reel to this very moment, will reveal a totally different
set of snapshots which have hitherto been kept under lock and key.
Without preamble he focuses straight onto what he calls the "other"
side of his life. January 5, 1948 - the day he was fired from his post
at Donald's Maradana, thanks to a youthful caprice.
Having strolled the streets of Colombo searching for another job at
about eleven in the morning he had walked into Studio Chitra, a
subsidiary of the Lake House and boldly inquired from the manager "Sir,
is there a vacancy here for me?" After scrutinizing him from head to toe
the Manager had asked him to come at two in the afternoon for an
When he had returned at the appointed time he was asked to take a
portrait picture. "It was all too easy, because they used the same
camera the same equipment used at Donald's." he says with a grin. So, it
was not a surprise when the Manager asked him to start work immediately.
He remembers he was paid Rs. 100 a month with an additional war
allowance of Rs.82.50.
When Chitra Studio was closed down, he was transferred to the
editorial staff of the Lake House. This meant starting his career anew,
for till then he had been a commercial photographer engaged mainly in
taking wedding photos or portrait pictures.
On his first day at Lake House he had walked up to the Editor of
Dinamina and asked him, "Sir, I do not know anything about taking news
photos. Can I go to the library and study what kind of pictures news
photos are?" " O.K carry on ", said the Editor.
He had spent a week in the library studying the pictures in
newspapers and magazines and formed a rough idea of what is expected
from him as a photo-journalist. He recalls that most of the editors he
had worked with at ANCL had wanted to fill the paper with descriptive
pictures rather than with long narratives. They had believed in letting
the pictures do the talking.
Fisherman at Muthurajawela
If the pictures had not satisfied the Editor he would shout at you
till you felt like jumping into the Beira Lake, for good. But the next
minute you will be called back into the Editors office and given Rs. 25
to have a beer and go home.
When you brought a marvellous picture though, the treatment would be
entirely different. "Superb. Out of this world" the Editor will thump
you on the back. This time you will be given Rs. 100 and be told to have
a couple of beers before you go home.
Possessing an unquenchable thirst to push himself to his next
creative level, he had, during his thirty-five years of service at Lake
House, constantly raised the bar not only for himself but for his
counterparts as well. He remembers how he had racked his brains when he
was asked to bring a photo to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Daily
News and suddenly hit on a brain-wave.
He had gone to the SSC grounds arranged the scoreboard to stand at 60
and made one of the boys who had been cutting the grass to stand holding
the Daily News in his hands in front of an unbroken wicket.
Another memorable event was taking the pictures of the wedding of
Prince Charles and Diana. Having practised by taking pictures off the TV
screen at home he had gone to the satellite station at Padukka with two
cameras and twenty colour rolls and covered the wedding from A to Z.
When he sent the negatives to the Chairman, R. Bodhinagoda, the
Chairman himself had taken them to Miller's Colour lab ensuring that no
other newspaper will get hold of the photos. The pictures in the Daily
News the next day would surely go down as the scoop of the 20th century.
Today, as Sri Lanka celebrates World Photography Day for the first
time in the history of the country's photo industry, he says
"Photographers are the 'enlighteners' of this world. We should not be
dismissed simply as 'Photo Karayas' . The value of our profession has
yet to be understood. For we are the stimulating force that opens the
eyes of our fellow men".
Going through the 125 black and white pictures of his book ' Learn to
See' , spanning a career of more than fifty years, it is impossible not
to gasp with wonder at the depth and dimension they possess. By the time
you reach the last picture you know Sri Lankan history, you have
travelled to far off places and taken wings to see aerial pictures of
Colombo in 1954.
As the interview comes to an end I realize I have been listening to a
veteran photographer whose photos speak of the ethics and responsibility
of photo-journalism, of how a camera could be moulded into a sensitive
and intelligent observer to bring forth pictures which make you laugh,
cry, and above all think. He has endowed all his pictures with something
rarely captured through a lens - substance.
And now it is time to reveal his name - he is Kala Bhushana L. E.
Today is World Photography Day
For the first time in Sri Lanka, World Photography Day, which falls
today (August 19, 2007) will be celebrated by the National Association
of Photographers-Sri Lanka (NAPSL), at the Auditorium of the Mahaweli
According to Wimal Amaratunge, Executive Director, NAPSL, this day,
August 19, was especially chosen as this was the day the first official
and scientific announcement on the process of photography was made in
1839 before the members of the Academies des Science and Beaux Arts in
France by L. J. M. Daguerre.
The NAPSL plans to celebrate the event every year beginning from
2007, with the aim of recognizing veterans in the field the pioneers of
photography in Sri Lanka.