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 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

According to my calculations Sri Lankan Blog aggregator 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”. 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.

2 Sri Lankan bloggers worth your time

One is a photographer. The other is a poet. Each I feel has a rare mastery of her medium. Your attention to their work will be well rewarded.

The photographer is Aamina Nizar. I blogged about her years ago. She sort of “went” off line for a while. She’s back with a new blog. The photography is literarily mouth watering. If you are trying to contain your gastronomic lusts (dieting) I suggest you brace yourself. All those shots of tarts, cakes and other high calorie sins will test you. If that’s too much of a trial I suggest her views of Ladakh in her previous blog as a starting point.

The poet is Shailee Wick. Her poetry blog has regularly been at work since 2012. But I only found it this year. A treasure of a find. Her words are heavy artillery rounds fired with the precision of a master sniper. In my opinion it took Bukowski a life time of boozing and brawling to pack this kind of punch. The themes of her work broadly reminds me of the recently rejuvenated Green Tea Diaries.

Enough introductions. Go visit these blogs yourself. Tell them that I (and the voices in my head) said Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!