17th March 2002

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Rude road monsters

By Nedra Wickremesinghe
Question:Why are Sri Lankans so inconsiderate when it comes to etiquette on the road? And to whom does the pedestrian crossing belong?

Answer: Apart from cricket, we Lankans are famed for being inconsiderate. Our drivers, are the best example. They have, in most instances, scant regard for any rules or etiquette that should be observed on the road. 

Strangely even the gentlest of persons becomes a maniac when she or she is on the road. The driver, no doubt, should be in full control of the wheel, but some act as if they are the lords and masters of the road. 

The worst offence committed by most drivers, is their callous disregard for the pedestrian crossing. They conveniently forget the existence of the "zebra crossing" and cruise along as though the road belongs to them. Pedestrians aren't allowed to cross the road even at a "crossing" but are expected to fly over to get to the other side. The worst culprits, of course, are the three-wheeler drivers.

Now just think of the hapless mortals trying to cross the road to catch a bus. They have to carefully choreograph their crossing ( on the pedestrian crossing) to avoid being knocked down. This is how it goes - they stick their necks out left, right and left again, wait for the right moment, all the while sweating in the infernal heat and inhaling the gas fumes till a considerate driver lets them pass. If one doesn't come along, they are compelled to do a "Susie" sprint not withstanding their age - ailments-disabilities etc to get across. 

Some other annoying habits displayed by drivers are:

* Honking relentlessly when trying to overtake

* Screaming insults and making obscene gestures at other drivers and pedestrians

* Parking and blocking the entrance to others' homes and roadways

* Double parking and disappearing

* Breaking traffic rules even when no one is looking

* Tailgating slower cars

* Parking on either side of narrow lanes

Try to remember that by adhering to road rules you can avoid unnecessary accidents. Showing courtesy on the road will make life less stressful and driving pleasurable all round.

Eloquence in Stone - is the history of Sri Lanka as seen through the camera lens of two of the country's foremost photographers, Nihal Fernando and Luxshmanan Nadaraja who have collaborated with writer Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda to produce a book. 

The exhibition presented by Studio Times Ltd., at the Indian Cultural Centre from March 22-24 will feature selected photographs from the book. 

These selected photographs have been taken in the past few months of ancient sites and artefacts that have rarely been visited and even more rarely photographed. Kudimbigala in Okanda, Kosgas Ulpotha cave in Dimbulagala and Mailla cave in Kotiyagala with its Sigiriya-like murals have been explored and photographed by the Studio Times team. A fascinating Veddah drawing of a man riding an elephant from a cave in Hulan Nuge and a dramatic photograph of Mudumaha Vihara in Potuvil at sunset will also be on display. Photographed in infra-red, perennial favourites such as the citadel areas in Anuradhapura and the Vatadage in Medirigiriya take on a haunting beauty.

Light and life

Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda on "Eloquence in Stone'

I always used to imagine that having a camera prevented you from really seeing and feeling, because you were always so busy focusing, looking for scenes, twiddling and fiddling that you never had the time to do anything else. Travelling with Nihal Fernando and Laxshman Nadaraja, I began to realize that a camera can also help you to see, closely and intensely. Nadaraja thinks and feels through his camera lens and working with him I started seeing things in a different way.

I had previously thought of the camera as an artificial thing, which could dictate and control the environment at will. A work of manipulation, it gave you the world at a click. But no, you needed the light and the background, they were all important. One was not enough, often you needed both together, at the same time. Sometimes the light may be good but then there was the background. The atmosphere dictates what you do or do not do as much as any other factor. The clouds for example, may not be the colour you want, the sky may be too grim or too blue, the light too pale. If you are a painter you can always paint whatever you want, in whatever colour, later on if you feel like it you can always change it. As a photographer however "you are a total prisoner of the environment". Often this means you have to hang around for hours just to get the shot you want. A very fluid art, it is always changing, from moment to moment and place to place. You may use the same camera to take the same picture but it will not necessarily be the same, but somehow you will see it differently.

The most important elements of all is light. It is not something we generally think about when we look at a photograph. The nature of the light and its quality can determine the whole photograph, enabling us to see different things at different times of day. Early in the morning, the light is soft and gentle, later in the day as the sun rises higher, it becomes hard and cold. Then once again in the late afternoon and early evening, it becomes warm and full of feeling.

For the photographer the source of light needs to be very low. It is this condition which provides the warm, red and orange glow which he relishes so much, giving his work both colour and texture. However in the tropics, the sun does not hang on the horizon. Instead it shoots straight up until it is high overhead. 

From this time onwards the glare becomes harsh and very white, throwing deep dense shadows. At times like this when the light is too intense, it leaves the image flat and dead. We have to wait for the sun's rays to fade and soften before the photograph can come alive again. Sunrise is the best time of day. In the early morning, the light is golden, it is like life itself lighting up the sleeping world. When it comes the photographer has to be ready and he must already have his subject worked out beforehand. A rare and very precious thing, for Laxshman Nadaraja, it is more valuable than anything else. 

"It comes suddenly, a fleeting, thrilling moment. Pure golden light, when I see it I start shivering." Seen through the eyes of the photographer, stone also becomes a living thing, telling a story of its own. Constantly changing, it is never the same, seeming different everytime you look at it. Wind and water for example can alter its shape and texture, while nature grows into it, changing its appearance. Its character too varies from moment to moment, sometimes it is deathly cold, at other times it is full of warmth and colour. 

However it is through light that we perceive stone and which brings it to life. Light brings shadow and feeling, drawing out the colours with the stone and lighting it up from within.

It is here that the key to our story lies. The direction and the change of light is fundamental to the photographer's art. 

The play of light, when and how it falls makes the stone talk and come alive. It brings out every nuance, giving feeling and adding depth. This is the meaning of Eloquence in Stone. 

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