Origins of a Photograph: Sri Lanka Part 1 of 3

In my continued mission to show you the origins of my photographs, please enjoy Part 1.

We left New York City via JFK and flew Emirates (through Dubai) to Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka. It’s a long flight to say the least, so we relaxed the first day and night at the Bentota Beach Hotel along the Southwestern coastline. The beaches were clean, peaceful and devoid of crowds – sometimes not even a single soul walking the shoreline.

From there we visited the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project before heading out via boat to Sri Lanka’s second largest wetland, the Maduganga river in Balapitiya. Here, we twisted and turned through the murky waterways wagging our tail at its 28 islands, 600 plant and animal species, prawn fisheries, hidden Buddhist temples, and modest cinnamon gardens.

More photographs eluded me than not as women, shielded by wildly colorful umbrellas, crossed footbridges, only to shuffle past before I could focus. Kingfishers, water monitors and eagles swept in and out frame–rendering them far too elusive for my crammed position. Only what remained predominantly still, found itself captured by my lens and onto the pages of this blog.

While there, we met some incredible local Sri Lankan men who operated a cinnamon garden on a tiny island within the Maduganga. A little further down the river, we turned our attention to a boy who was selling time–time that we could use to dunk our feet into pools of fish that would proceed to nibble on whatever dead skin they could find. Strange, yet oddly soothing, we reluctantly exfoliated and once again were on the move, through the mangroves around the islands and back on the road.

We stopped at the Blue Moonstone gem mine where they cultivate a rare gemstone that features a milky blue hue that takes on different characteristics at various angles. It’s beautiful, but the operation was a bit of a ruse. Once we arrived, our appointed guide was quickly swapped out with a man who apparently “ran the show.” And a show it was.

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After hearing the tone of our western tongues and seeing my pallid skin-tone and clunky camera equipment, he made sure to corral us in a fashion that would put us into his storefront far sooner than we would have liked. His insight was staged, quick and constantly moving while his people came in and out of what seemed like disingenuous scenes masked as an actual day’s work. I’d leverage the situation for an incredible photo op, but it felt wrong and dirty–even undeserving for the circumstance negated the beauty of anything I’d ready to shoot.

The grounds also contained a cinnamon oil plantation where men labored over a hot kiln to extract oils from cinnamon leaves. The aroma, thick and smoked to perfection, was enthralling and the process interesting, but it too felt right at home in the caged atmosphere of the pandering circus going on around us.

From there we stayed two nights at the Ranna Hotel in Tangalle. The rooms were sleek and inviting, the grounds were gorgeous and the staff was professional and accommodating–especially upon arrival where they greeted us with an elaborate procession of welcome drinks, hors d’oeuvres, hot towels and floral arrangements. The hotel wass directly on the beach and, as with Bentota, was virtually uncrowded.

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Venturing out from Ranna, we were in route to the Hummanaya blowhole when we came across an open air market. It was something I was hoping to see and as we entered it was a pure explosion of the senses with fresh spices, raw fish, thick smoke and vivid color everywhere.

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As for the blowhole, I’ll admit I’m a bit jaded; spoiled by the geysers of Yellowstone and similar spouts in the Caribbean, but was as impressed of the stretch of coastline that this impressive spout occupies as anything it spit at us.

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Click below for Part Two (coming soon)

Part Two

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