How do you see your creative self ?

Attempts at “interesting” compositions

Thought provoking insightful comments are one of blogging’s few real rewards. Chamira’s comment on my post about film photos is the most recent. I realised the response I was typing as practically a blog post. His points are worth while enough to put this in a post. So here it is. This post is a response to the part of his comment where he asks:

I noticed whenever you discuss the artistic inclinations of your previous lives there is almost a sneering contempt for those ‘juvenile efforts’. It is a shame, as you clearly enjoyed and learned something from it. Why the snarky captions? Is it the fear that people might think you take yourself too seriously, or worse, that you have artistic pretensions?

I have to admit I would hate to be seen as someone who thinks of myself too seriously. Worse with with artistic pretensions. But my biggest fear is ending up developing artistic pretensions by gradually thinking of myself too seriously.

In ancient times spent a lot of time around people who did. I saw what awful stuff they kept cranking out. All the while patting each other on the back. The great Bukowski wrote a lot spearing these types. I guess my “sneer” at myself is to make sure I don’t fall into that trap. Because a long time ago I nearly fell into it.

Thankfully I had the fortune to meet a few great creative souls. Not globally famous but able to earn their keep with their work. Beyond their work, what inspired me the most was their humbleness and humour of not taking themselves too seriously. Even when the “profession” of being a full time “artist” required them to be.

I enjoy taking photos and painting. But I also know that creative stuff in any medium takes a ridiculous amount of time. It’s quite miserable when you know that you will never get the time to push the idea/theme to the “right level”. The level when the voices inside the head are stunned speechless. And you KNOW its “right” at a primal gut level. What other people think about it become laughably irrelevant. I’ve been to that place a few time. It’s a long climb and any sleep depravation needed to get there is worth it when you are 19-20.

It’s not sustainable with the other priorities of life. No painting is worth dragging one’s family into financial troubles. I will never under prioritise time with the kids to “creative” stuff. Saying “Thatha is too busy painting to play with you” to me is unthinkable. Its heartbreaking to think there are people out there who do that. There are people who prioritise their “art” over other aspects of living. I’m not one of them. It doesn’t feel right.

I’ve tried the “getting up 2 hours before dawn to make time for the creative stuff” thing. Not to mention other pitiful attempts at life hacking. None of them sustainable. You can’t operate in the “real” world on 2 hours sleep a day for too long. The results look forced and tired. Worse is to look at work that you KNOW is half baked because you’ll never have the time to bang away at it till it’s “right”.

The best I can do with build up in micro increments. 30 seconds bursts of activities that will build up over the years. Its like building the pyramids in 1mm layers of dust. Infuriating as it is, it keeps my nostrils above the waters of misery. In the long run that makes a difference – to me at least.

Never quite realised all this till the process of replying to Chamira’s comment. Many thanks to him for provoking this.

Film Photography : Non Digital Stop On A Photographic Journey


These film photographs are hard won victories from my non digital photography days. A time of despairing struggle. Trying to understand the voodoo of F-stop and aperture. Recorded by piles of over or under exposed disasters. Took me years to realise the cause. Technical incompatibilities between my ancient Nikon’s “semi automatic” settings and its Sigma lens had sabotaged most of my shots.

The victim of this feud was any confidence I had in my photographic abilities. Salvation meant switching to full manual. Then taking more bad photographs from square one. It drilled into me the realisation that if you take enough bad photographs, a fraction will come out not so bad. At least not bad enough to throw away.

The learning was slow. It was a time when you had to wait days to see how a photo came out. 24 hour processing was never a part of my life. Polaroids were fad of my parent’s generation. Photos took a week or more to turn up. As envelopes of postcard size disappointments. Much later I got access to a dark room. And another round of perceptual realisations.

Aside from the coming closer to subconsciously understanding the technical stuff,
I began to notice “themes” that had crept into what I shot:

Attempts at “interesting” compositions
Attempts at “interesting” compositions

 

Reflections on windows.
Reflections on windows were the closest it gets to looking conceptual.

 

Some sort of tango about geometric shadows
Some sort of tango about geometric shadows

 

And “organic” shadows
More of the same nonsense with “organic” shadows

 

The old Ceylon look and digital sepia tone is the only thing that save this over exposed failure.
The old Ceylon look and digital sepia tone are the only things that give this over exposed failure the delusion of being saved.. The photo as taken with another one used in another post

 

The usual arty abstractions of high contrast black and white.
The usual arty abstractions of high contrast black and white.

 

The requisite grungy and therefore hip industrial detail shot
The requisite grungy and therefore hip industrial detail shot

 

Pretentious snaps of evening light.
Pretentious snaps of evening light.

 

This is possibly the only  record to show I ever  woke up early enough for a sun rise.
Possibly the only record to show I ever woke up early enough for a sun rise.

None (thankfully) have any claims to conceptual intentions. Other than obeying a wordless command in the head that said “photograph that or you will be miserable”.

Yet it’s been fun. Even almost close to an infrequent adventure. Nearly got arrested for ignorantly snapping away near high security zone. Had a exciting try at aerial photography from a helicopter over Colombo.

Inevitably I gave up my film camera after one last sunset. Became an official photographer for our usual group of friends. Later ditched the digital SLR.

Now I snap photos of the offspring units with a portable computer occasionally used to make phone calls. So relatives abroad can “aney sweeeeeet” their antics. Occasionally I have time to notice a flower. Or the morning light through leaves.

My float down the photography river remains (as it always was) an interesting, fun destination-less journey. It placates a voracious nameless urge to create images from eating too much of my time. When I want to look at real photography I turn to the likes of Aamina Nizar and the offspring of the ante meridiem light.

What place does/did film photography have in your photographic history? The comment box awaits the story.

*The photos in this post were “digitised” with a phone. Not that the photos could get any crappier.

Yamu’s global success wrong model for Sri Lankan cultural exporters


The film “Yamu”! pioneered the profitable marketing of Sri Lankan cinema to a global audience. It’s international success story has made the film THE model for “selling” Sri Lanka’s art, literature, music and other “cultural exports” to the world. This view is misguided.

It ignores the uniqueness of the film’s success. Which according to wiser heads is a special case. The result of innovation that is rare in Sri Lanka’s “cultural” sector. They warn that ignoring the details of “Yamu!”’s global rise by a wave of imitators will harm the industry.

At the heart of “Yamu!”‘s global success are the unique, very controversial qualities of the film. Much social media venom is still hurled at director Indica Mendis over them. “Selling out for money” is the main theme of the attack. Made by film purists and post colonial critics who were his early champions.

The most obvious and controversial is the audience centric approach of the film. Mendis has made multiple versions of his film for different audience segments. A special “director’s cut” for a European film festival had a gay ménage à trois in a Trishaw. For LTTE friendly Toronto, an unpleasant checkpoint harassment scene with an off screen rape.

The release for the ChinA market had the largest number of changes. It included visuals highlighting the work of Chinese state enterprises. Chinese language signage was added to key scenes in post production. Potentially negative views of the newly built Veeragamunu stadium at Elephant Pass are seamlessly replaced with flattering video supplied by the construction company – a Chinese state owned enterprise. The story has reportedly been significantly altered in the dubbed Mandarin dialogue.

The US theatrical release was dubbed with American accented voices to make the film accessible to a “mainstream” US audience. It convinced the US distributors to screen the film outside the art film circuit. As a result the first weekend’s US box office take covered all production costs and tripled profits.

“Yamu!” is also the first Sri Lankan film to break into India’s lucrative market. The cricket centric Indian (Tamil and Telegu) version debuted in Chennai to positive reviews and avoided the expected protests.

Medis’s bold and innovative use of his work are proving to be fruitful. They are allowing the film to reach previously inaccessible audiences. In the process “Yamu!” is breaking all box office records for a Sri Lankan film. The hard currency income from international profits will thrill the producers. At the same time it will gain Mendis greater financial freedom. Which hopefully will translate into creative independence.

This willingness to radically adapt has allowed “Yamu!” to get past “gatekeepers” of lucrative markets. In most cases it has made these gate keepers (specifically distributors) into allies and champions. The film’s modular/episodic narrative structure allows for such “adaptations”. The stridently humanist message is universal enough to cut through the changes. The film’s emotional power lies in its visuals. Thus the specifics of the dialogue’s language is not a key factor in the story.

Such adaptability isn’t possible for most culture “products”. A majority of films will not survive the type of editorial changes that make up “YAMU!”’s many incarnations. As a consequence the modular approach of YAMU! will breed a new type of “formula film”. Yet unlike with Bollywood formula film the “YAMU!” “formula” will not work on global audiences that seek diversity and originality. These are the very audiences the Sri Lankan cultural exporters are seeking to capture.

The unavoidable “secret” for successful cultural exports is originality. Which packages universal themes in the attractive packaging of Sri Lankan specifics. A very difficult feat of constant innovation. Requiring creatives to come up with the next new thing before the current one withers into cliche. Those seeing to “monetise” on copy cat versions of YAMU will hit this reality sooner than they expect. Imitators of Lasanthika David’s Booker shortlisted PEN awarded travelogue on the
Elephant Taxis of Senkadagala already have.

Review of Imaginary Films, Peoples Republic of Dehiwala

Independence Arcade : Feels like a white elephant

Panorama shot, Arcade Independence Square

Independence Arcade is the hottest thing in Colombo when it opened. I finally got around to going there in October 2014. It felt like visiting another white elephant. A wound from one more politically connected racket. Its a nasty of me to say. I don’t have any evidence to verify evidence of illegalities. Its just a strong subjective feeling that goes beyond the whiff of corruption.

Visually the place is clean and lets admit it, beautiful. Even if lunch time on a week day is not the best time to go. The place is devoid of customers. Packs of school boys roam the hot corridors. They are not out to buy Tommy Hilfiger. Maybe to ogle the occasional couple trying to grab a quick smooch in an archway. The fountain with the lions is a magnet for group selfies. The posh shops are empty. In more than one, bored staff are lost in Facebook on their shop’s computers.

I came wanting to be impressed by the place. Feel the pride, if not the impressed glow, others emit when they talk about the place. All I found was the feeling of entering a familiar empty sham. The easy explanation is to blame on the time of day, my cynicism and a subconscious revulsion to consumerism. Yet life is never about easy explanations of anything.

I’m also not much of a “mall” person. Whether in Sri Lanka or any of the countries of my exile. “High end” shopping in a messy third world setting. An imitation of what first worlders take as high end. It always felt empty. Masks of prosperity too thin to hide anything. Something nameless felt – dare I say it – wrong.

An honest look at “problem” is not about ideology. I’m neither a socialist nor a consumerist. I just cringe from acquiring/buying stuff. Which means you have to put up with more things. More things lead clutter. Clutter create the hassle of having to constantly reorganise junk you rarely use but can’t dump “IN CASE” you need to use it.

Worse, buying one thing creates needs to spend more time dealing with other “needs” it creates. “Accessories” are a classic symptom of this plague. Buy a TV and you’ll be hunting for furniture to keep it on. Things break down. They have to be repaired, replaced – DEALT WITH. I have enough priorities to spend time sort out other competing priorities. All on a tread mill of increasing complexity.

I prefer to wait till something needs to be replaced. Then ideally find a way to do without the “need” the thing originally fulfilled. If that failed, buy something that lasts. Take for instance television. While in exile, my TV set died on the day George Bush Jr invaded Iraq. I happily lived without a TV for years. Despite having one now, I’ve managed to avoid turning it on.

My aversion to acquiring stuff must come from being a nomad for too long. Where one more dish, book, thing means one more to pack and lug. In the process I came to dislike the ugliness of defining oneself by the things you buy. The madness of self identity through brands. The need slather oneself with logos to claim some sort of silly identity/affiliation.

All things to think about when you looked back at your new year shopping.

It could be that this dislike of gathering stuff applies to retail spaces. By extension the Arcade. Which make me sound like an ungrateful arty snob. I don’t care if I am. It’s certainly not promoting retail economic activity. Good thing my nutty personal preferences have no influence on the matter.

I think if I was more relaxed about these things, I would see the place as the YAMU review did. The easy parking, the clean wide spaces didn’t do much good to my view of things.

Has anyone felt this away about the place ? Or is it just me?

Wish you all a belated prosperous non consumerist new year.

Happy 10th birthday kottu.org


According to my calculations Sri Lankan Blog aggregator kottu.org is 10 years old today! The domain name was first registered on March 17, 2005 though that’s not an indication of a “launch date”. Kottu.org has certainly come a long way it lurched onto the scene. Some of us oldies certainly have fond memories of it.

Head wear off to the grand old man of the Sri Lankan Blogosphere for keeping it chugging at his personal expense. I thought I could have the nostalgia marinated post I’m writing for Icarus ready by now. Sadly my writing time is brutally strangled so this is all I could manage.

If you got memories of the old days please share them before they fade. May be the old top Sri Lankan blog posts page might kick off some memories.