Best of wildlife captured on reel

By Sarashi Samarasinghe
Changing course from being an anthropologist and an archaeologist to take up photography, Rukshan Jayawardene has come a long way in the field of wildlife photography.

Jayawardene is ready to exhibit his photographs again. “This is going to be my second exhibition which has been named ‘wild space’. I held my first exhibition in the year 2003 in Colombo,” said Jayawardene.
According to Jayawardene, he had been involved in photography since childhood. He is a self-taught photographer and had at one time taken photographs of natural subjects, using a plastic camera.

“In the year 1999, I decided to focus my attention on wildlife photography,” recalled Jayawardene.
He further stated that during that period, the need to take better photographs of leopards in particular, was strongly felt by a small group of people. These people had come together to produce a book on the Sri Lankan leopard.

“This was purely to further the conservation of this little understood and sometimes much misunderstood carnivore,” said Jayawardene.
Jayawardene further emphasised that his method was to totally immerse himself in tracking, learn about the leopard and photograph the animal in his endeavor to progress as a photographer.

“Fortunately the fact that I was not employed on a regular basis freed me to spend as much time as I could in Yala. In the year 2000, I got acquainted with a Yala game guard, the late Kumara Banda, who had an extraordinary knowledge of animals,” said Jayawardene.

According to Jayawardene he had first seen a leopard in Wilpattu though he didn’t photograph it. That moment had provided him with an exiting experience.

“Looking at leopards and understanding them is great. It demands a lot from a photographer,” said Jayawardene.

The exhibition ‘Wild space’ features 70 photographs. Around 75% to 80% of the photographs are from Sri Lanka and the rest are from Africa and India,” said Jayawardene.
“The pictures offer views of leopards from various positions. There are pictures of leopards at a kill and so on,” said Jayawardene.

He further stated that this year marked his 10th year as a photographer.
Jayawardene had his primary education at Royal College, Colombo where he was an active member of the wildlife conservation society.

“During my school years, I was a bird watcher and I loved to see wildlife movies and documentaries,” said Jayawardene.
Jayawardene spent most of his school vacations at national parks. This experience had a great influence on him.

“I subsequently went to the University of New Brunswick, Canada to study forestry and conservation. Unavoidable circumstances made me change my university and my course of study. In 1988, I graduated with a degree in Anthropology from the University of Maryland, United States of America (USA),” said Jayawardene.

Jayawardene obtained a masters degree in South Asian Archaeology from the University of Cambridge in United Kingdom, in 1992. He counts approximately 14 years field experience in eight districts and six years of teaching Archaeology as a part time lecturer at the University of Kelaniya.

“In 2002, my photograph of a hawk grappling with a land monitor taken in Yala won a prize at the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) wildlife magazine’s wildlife photographer of the year, competition,” said Jayawardene.

He further stated that this was an international competition which was open to amateurs and professionals alike. According to him that year the competition had attracted approximately 20,000 entries.
“The photograph also appeared in the book, ‘Wildlife photographer of the Year’, portfolio 12,”said Jayawardene.

Jayawardene further stated that he still believed that cameras and lenses were merely tools of the trade that enabled a person to capture the picture in mind, just as much a vehicle was a means of transport or the conveyance that enabled you to get to where you wanted.

“All the photographs in this exhibition are printed from colour slides or transparencies. However, I have been using a digital camera as a back up since 2004,”said Jayawardene.
He further stated that all the photographs exhibited belong to a period between 2002 to 2007 with the exception of three that were taken earlier.

“None of them have been exhibited before. They reflect my personal selection and do not in anyway constitute a representative collection of this island’s substantial bio diversity. Neither are they restricted to Sri Lankan subjects,” said Jayawardene.

Jayawardene further emphasised that he was primarily a long lens photographer and this collection also reflected that bias. It also focuses on many of his special interests which are birds and leopards.
“To be a successful wildlife photographer, one requires concentration, patience and discipline,” said Jayawardene.

He concluded his conversation by saying that he had succeeded in inspiring others and making them appreciate and safe guard the island’s irreplaceable natural heritage through his photographs.
The exhibition will be held at Barefoot Gallery, Colombo from November 26 to December 7.


Weeping Forest - A response

By P. N. Dayawansa, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Zoology, University of Colombo
I am writing this letter with reference to the articles published in The Nation ‘Weeping Forest’ by Nimashi Amaleeta Fernando, on November 23, 2008 , and ‘Responses to the Weeping Forest’ by J. Amarasinghe and Dilan Peiris, on November 30, 2008.

First I would like to state that the so called interview (‘Corrupt Official’: The Nation-Soaring Raptor 23.11.2008) Nimashi Fernando has published never took place, it has to be mentioned emphatically that this interview she claims that she had with me is just a piece of her creative imagination. Thus, her imaginations could lead the place to a ‘Hotel and a Pub’ and these terms used by her are of her own. I have to display my extreme displeasure for naming this wonderful place as a Hotel and a Pub by Nimashi Fernando. It is a disgrace that she has tarnished the image of this valuable place by accusing the current condition and by naming the arboretum as a hostile place for visitors. Ironically, she has invited general public to visit the arboretum and given instructions on how to reserve the place, after tarnishing the image of it, which is self-contradictory.

Nimashi Amaleeta Fernando is a former student of mine; I was much aggrieved when I read the above mentioned article because she has misused my name to write inaccurate and erroneous information about the management of the Popham Arboretum. On 26.11.2008 I personally informed her to correct her mistake in the next edition of The Nation. It is doubly disgraceful to see her trying to absolve herself by passing the blame, as we were to see in her note on the last issue of The Nation, rather than regretting for the errors that caused much damage and disgrace to many people and institutions. Thus, I consider it as my duty towards the public and considered parties to inform them about the truth.

I have no personal grudges against the manager that has been mentioned in the article or any of the labourers. In fact the manager and the staff have been helpful towards me during many visits and workshops, that were carried out by me at the arboretum for undergraduate students. The writer of the article Weeping Forest has mentioned that I have said that the manager was, “perfectly intoxicated” which is untrue and is mere fantasising on her part. Furthermore, she has stated that I consider the Arboretum as an unsafe place especially for girls, I would like to recall her memory that I have taken her and other third year Zoology special students to the Arboretum for a workshop in 2006, during which the above mentioned manager was also present. Since then I have taken my students to the Arboretum for various workshops, which as a lecturer, I would have never done if the place was considered as unsafe.