Monday, March 02, 2015

Eloquence in Stone’ travels far - By Ranat

A photograph in the Daily FT earlier this week showed Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in Washington. It was interesting to see Lagarde having a copy of ‘Eloquence in Stone,’ the Studio Times publication. Obviously the Minister had presented a copy to her – an ideal souvenir. The classy production traces Sri Lanka’s history visually with a heap of high quality pictures supported by an extremely well-written text. Lagarde is bound to enjoy the book and find a permanent place in her library.
Interesting publications by Studio Times Studio Times has been releasing interesting publications for several decades. They are all about Sri Lanka. My collection dates back to 1974 when Studio Times released ‘Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller’. For over three decades I have made full use of the book, which is a ready-reckoner on any location in Sri Lanka which one wants to visit or know about. I continue to quote from it for the articles and books I write. I find it hard to get such authentic information on places from any other publication. In between the ‘Handbook’ and ‘Eloquence’ (2008), Studio Times gave us ‘The Wild, The Free, The Beautiful’ (1984), ‘Serendip to Sri Lanka: Immortal Isle’ (1991)and ‘Sri Lanka: A Personal Odyssey’ 1997). All were well-polished gems of photography mixed with fine text. ‘Eloquence in Stone’ beats them all – in size, in content, in visual extravagance, in well-researched written material and in presentation. Bigger than the coffee table books we are used to, ‘Eloquence’ is a 475-page volume with 465 photographs.
Tale of Sri Lanka’s history through the ages ‘Eloquence’ is the tale of Sri Lanka’s history through the ages. It relates “the amazing saga of a small people on a small island who are heirs to one of the oldest living cultures in the world who still speak the same language, practice the same religion and follow the same customs as their ancestors did more than 2,000 years ago”. It discusses their art and craft, their architecture, sculpture and painting in a classic publication. In short ‘ the story of man in a world shaped by his environment’.
The book is the brainchild of one man – Nihal Fernando. Best known as a most talented and committed photographer, he is a traveller, wild life enthusiast, conservationist and lover of anything Sri Lankan. “This is the dream I have had for the last 15 years. I want to tell the story of this country and its people. I want to make people think about our past and what we are doing to it before it’s too late,” he says in two lines, which is aptly displayed in a full page in the book.
A fresh look and insight As for the contents, it covers an exhaustive period of over 2,000 from our origins to the Kandyan era and traces the ups and downs experienced over the years. Just as much as it tells the story of the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods, the book covers Ruhuna and the less talked-about kingdoms.
We have visited, seen and admired most places that boast of the richness and vibrancy of ancient culture. Yet glancing through the pages of ‘Eloquence’ we find many an exciting place, a craft or an art which we had either missed out or even if we had seen, give a fresh look and insight. The colour and black and white photographs are the painstaking efforts of five main cameramen – Nihal Fernando, daughter Anu, Laxmanan Nadaraja, Christopher Silva, Devaka Seneviratne and Roshan Perret. The exhaustive text has been written and lucidly presented by Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda. Eranga Tennekoon is responsible for the pleasing design. The Studio Times team which had travelled widely to every nook and corner capture the glory of Sri Lanka has done a wonderful job and deserves praise and precious of everyone who loves the motherland. ‘Eloquence’ is a ‘must’ in one’s library and an ideal gift for anyone.

Feb 20, Washington, DC: Sri Lanka's Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake recently held discussions with the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde on the economic developments in the country and the near- term outlook.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal called on State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene at the Defence Ministry 2nd February 2015

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


‘With the Dawn’ A love-note penned in the Sri Lankan wilds By Reviewed by Malinda Seneviratne Sunday, 06 January 2013 The Nation ‘With the Dawn’, by Nihal Fernando and Herbert Keuneman, published by Studio Times Ltd.Countless melodies can be composed with the 12 pitches of the Chromatic scale. More than 12 words in the English dictionary alone give sense of dimension pertaining to possible multitude of word configuration. One might say that we have enough and more tools to describe the World to ourselves and one another. However, we all some times feel poor not for lack of words but perhaps for its suffusion. We cannot pick the correct words to describe to perfection. Then we go silent. It is the same with painters. Color and line make for innumerable configuration but rendering them is always incomplete. Artists give us new eyes and perhaps inevitably new lies as new ways of self-deception. One would think, then, that the photographer is a more humble archivist, except that this is also an exercise that involves choices such as time of day, light-shade mix, the ‘settings’ pertaining to camera and of course post-shot play on a computer where a wide range of tools are available to re-render what was captured. When a photographer has traveled a territory more extensively than an archaeologist or surveyor it is clear that he or she can make countless albums for innumerable ways are available to organize material. It is hard to think of anyone who has traveled the length and breadth of the island as much as Nihal Fernando has done. Neville Weeraratne in an essay titled ‘Nihal Fernando and Herbert Keuneman: A tale of two kindred souls’ says that the former ‘has seen, heard, experienced and above all understood the land, its people and their lives’. It holds for the latter too, going by that same essay and by the authoritative travel guide The Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller which carries the signature of his life, vision, knowledge and the love he shared with Fernando for this country. Weeraratne describes him this way: “His lifelong residence led to a passionate love for the island. There is (nor was) anyone with his encyclopedic knowledge of the country in whatever the detail and in whichever the discipline”. Weeraratne’s piece is found towards the end of an album of photographs which is also an essay and a journey, With the dawn published by Studio Times. From dawn to dusk is a long time. For people like Fernando and Keuneman it’s a set of hours that can theoretically make for countless albums on countless subjects. This collection is based on the Studio Times exhibition called ‘Wild Life ’73’’ held almost 40 years ago at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery, Colombo. The photographs displayed were picked by Keuneman just two weeks prior to exhibition date. That process has been described beautifully thus: ‘Fernando and Keuneman flung open the doors of the studio (Studio Times, that is, located then in the Times Building, Colombo Fort), letting the unsullied air of a quiet morning find its way into the dark corners, as they laid out the photographs on the floor. Beggars who lived in the foyer of the building, occasionally peered in to look at the whirling images of deer and elephants, monkeys and crocodiles, jungle trees and jungle pools, birds and more birds in flight. Herbert Keuneman walked among these black-and-white prints, picking up one, peering at the next, tossing photographs here, there, everywhere. He cast a few aside, sorted others, grouped some and started writing the story of a day in the jungle…with the dawn…the birds…awake…and take off…and so it went on until the last bird flew home.’ This was long before digital cameras and ‘Photoshop’ advances that turned point-click amateurs into artistic photographers if they knew how to photo-edit or could obtain the services of a photo editor. We can flip through the pages and be mesmerized by the images. It would take a traveler however to look at each photograph and imagine the work involved. Nihal Fernando is well known for his patience. He did not (and admittedly could not) depend on the insurance of post-click technology to work out the glitches that human frailty (of mind, eye and finger) spawns. It is a black and white collection. For this reason the photographer obviously had to work within narrower margins of error. Color blinds at times make a lot of fudging. Perhaps this is why even in today’s digitized world of fascination with color palettes the black and white photographer is still held in awe. We cannot tell if the collection was gathered photographically over a single day. But this was a different age of photography and society working towards different objectives at a different pace and in less glittered economy. Nihal Fernando was inspired by love. So too, Herbert Keuneman. Such people don’t rush. They take their time. It is evident in the collection both in image and in descriptive line. They take us from moment to moment, hour to hour, dawn to dusk as though leading us by hand drawing attention to all that the untrained and less-used-to-loving eye would miss. Keuneman’s economy of words is ideal complement to Fernando’s photographic poetry. He says only what is necessary and thereby teaching that silence is an excellent travel companion and even travel guide. There is silence, silently captured and described in whisper. There is music here too, for Fernando makes us hear the ripple of water, the movement of wind, the call of bird, flapping of wings and thereby teaching us the language of the civilized, our ancestors who had eyes and did not babble incessantly just because they had mouths and tongues. With the Dawn ends ‘when the last bird flies home’. It is a limited edition of just 1000 copies. A different generation of photographers might think that armed with technology they could do as much or better with a fraction of the effort. They would be wrong. Technology does not have a ‘love-function’. It is not obtained by point-and-click on a computer screen or inserted as device in a sophisticated camera. It comes with walking. It comes with deep reflection. It comes in conversations with hundreds and hundreds of ordinary people. It comes with the dawn and takes flight in the wings of the last bird flying home.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka Written by Malinda Seneviratne Sunday, 24 June 2012 It was first an exhibition. An effective and infuriating teaser. The book came later, much later than anticipated. The work, however, was neither exhibit nor text; it was a civilizational story etched in artifact and clearly resident in the heart of a chronicler who not only knew ‘point and click’, but when to point and what to point at before clicking. All that is eloquent. So too that other text, the one with words, that accompany, complement and even elevate the work of a self-effacing patriot who walked the talk and let his lens say all the things he had to say. ‘Eloquence in Stone,’ as I said, was first an exhibition. It gave us a glimpse of the book that eventually came out some years later. This is a note about that book, by the same name. ‘Eloquence in Stone’ is not just a collection of photographs. It is, as claimed, an account of the lithic saga of the island of Sinhale, whose name evolved into ‘Sri Lanka’. There are many ways to write a history. One can collate the various chronicles, the stories of the heroes, the kings, queens, princes, princesses and other royalty, the years marked by ascension, death and disposing, the critical wars that altered the political landscapes, or the ideological sweep that marked the end of an era and the beginning of another. One can gather history, also, by recording the unwritten, those hidden narratives bypassed by chronicler but resident nevertheless in folk tale and folk song, or scripted into dance and drama. In all this there is interpretation, for such texts are soft and pliant in the hands of a reader armed with privileging intent. And then there’s stone, yes, also amenable to reading, but nevertheless more obdurate when facing history-twister. One thing is certain. For all the stories that got edited out, for all the multiple interpretations pregnant in artifact, for all the decay courtesy the elements, for all the desecration and vandalism, there is something splendid in these stones, these lithic remnants of vibrant, glorious and tragic centuries. It is by no means complete, for archaeology is a relatively recent fascination and there is probably more under the earth than the unearthed. ‘Eloquence in Stone’ is a chronicle of the unearthed, and what’s seen, even as it speaks of splendor, hints at a past that is probably far more magnificent than evidenced by the excavated. It’s not a story that begins with Vijaya or the arrival of Arahat Mahinda. It is a record that covers artifacts from centuries before all that. It takes us from one age to another, dynasty to dynasty, one seat of power to another. The narrative gaze lingers on canal, dam and other irrigational elements, all speaking of an economy, a way of life, an ethic in interacting with the natural world, a benign and complementary rather than a violent and destructive engagement. It’s an eye that takes in and gives out architecture, that pertaining to state-craft and to the other, more abiding and culture-defining lines, curves and crafting that is and of faith, as majestic but made for the kind of reflection that marked the civilizational ethos and runs as thread through the centuries. There is beauty and charm in all this. The aesthetic was never made to play second fiddle to the ‘pragmatic’ shall we say of the state, the ‘demands’, shall we say of the economic. That was what life was and still is in places that are as unbelievable as those of the past captured in these photographs: life was and is art and there was and is cross-reflection. You find this in ornament and stairway, moonstone and sluice gate, the dam and the spill, the stupa and the altar, the sakman maluwa and the monastery. ‘Eloquence’ is a page turner, as all good photography books are, but it’s page-turning power has to do with the elegance of text as well. Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda’s descriptions move seamlessly among the photographs and are an intrinsic part of the overall textural weave of photo-strand and word-strand. It is an introduction and a nutshell version, a gentle guide and a chronicle which only someone gifted with word, love of land and skilled in the instruments of historiography can produce. Tammita-Delgoda is clearly attributed with the requisite tools. He has not disappointed. This is not the first time I got my hands on ‘Eloquence’. Each time I flip through the pages, or just turn to a random page and read, there’s a thought that invariably interrupts: ‘We are blessed to have been born in and to this land. We are the product of the tenderness and drive of our ancestors and we better do justice to their efforts. This country is a treasure trove, every square inch of it. The world may have many wonders, but the wonders of my land await my visit and I know that I don’t have the years and decades necessary to partake of it all, or at least that which is visible as of now. This book is the only “tourist guide” this country ever needed. This book is to be read and it is to be travelled. Every page, every photograph and every descriptive line is an invitation to explore. It empowers. It inspires. It settles the furies and unearths dormant energies. It makes me love my country like I’ve never loved it before.’ Tammita-Delgoda recounts a conversation with Nihal Fernando, the man who had the legs and heart, the patience and discipline to capture this history: ‘I want to tell the story of this country and its people. I want to make people think about our past and what we are doing to it before it is too late.’ Nihal was and still is acutely conscious of what the marriage of greed and ignorance can yield. He knows firsthand that the unearthed is not just vulnerable to the ravages of wind, rain and sun, but more terribly the fingering of human beings. He has, I know, a deep enough understanding of the human condition as well as the political economy that often frames, limits and provokes violence, to predict possible outcomes. As such, ‘Eloquence’ is a letter to the conscience of relevant authorities, academics and most of all, the citizens of this country who, if robbed of heritage would be easier prey for the kinds of vandals who have mutilated this land for centuries. I believe therefore that ‘Eloquence’ is a must-have for every school library, every Government institution that has a library, every politician and every academic. And ideally, it should be available in Sinhala and Tamil too. These are breathtaking, meditation-inviting, inspiring pictures. The black-whites, especially, shows what a master Nihal Fernando is when armed with lens. His is not, clearly not, point-and-click photography. He is a composer who is conscious of light and shadow, the movement of wind and the relevance of time and timing. He knows angle too. One gets the sense that he is a perfectionist who might even lament that he is yet to take his best photographs. The collection includes the work of those who have learnt from him, among whom are some who have gone on to develop their own styles and specialities. Anu Weerasuriya, Luxshmanan Nadaraja, Christopher Silva, Devaka Deneviratne and Roshan Perret probably share the love Nihal has for this land and most likely enough of his work ethic. As I mentioned, it is words too, not just visual and exceptional quality of page and book design. So I believe it is best to let the co-narrator, Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda have the last word for it is as much about ‘Eloquence in Stone’ as it is about us, i.e. you and I and all of us and even those whose feet will touch the good earth that gave us a land, a history, a heritage, a civilization and a tomorrow that can very well be ours: ‘Eloquence in Stone’ is a voyage through Sri Lanka as it was and as it is, it seeks to inquire and to question, to understand and appreciate, to reflect and perhaps inspire. An image of ourselves, it muses on our past, our present and may be our future. This is why we have called it “The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka”. It is a story which deserves to be told, for it is our story and we are the ones who are telling it.’

Tuesday, October 04, 2011



21.5x27.5 cm, 256 pages, 149 black & white and 146 colour photographs, Words by Robert Silva

When it hit the booksehlves in 1986 it was a pioneer publication.
No other Sri Lankan had produced such a comprehensive book of this nature.
It was also the first book of colour and black and white photographs to be published by a Sri Lankan. The previous book of its genre was Images of an Island by Reg van Culenberg, published 25 years previously and the milestone before that was Lionel Wendt’s Ceylon.

“Though I have never learnt to handle a camera, I could claim to be a happy collaborationist of a sort with him. I have followed his trail or similar trails. I have slept on the sand bar at Sinnemuhattuvaram. I have drunk of the dune waters of the moya kalapuwa across Menik Ganga; I have rested my head on soft sea sand pillows fashioned by me on the lonely trek to Minihagalkanda; I have drunk the toddy oozing out from the palmyra flower on the sand dunes of Talaimannar; I have glimpsed the Elysian of a score of hills from Ritigala to Kirigalpotte. So it is with a sense of reverence and of lovely inner joy that I reach for these pictures where the air is scented, where one hears the sound of falling waters or the whisper of bare trees, where one sees the flame of the dying sun hushed by the moan of the sea or the still waters of the kalapuwa.” – Vesak Nanayakkara, Weekend, 18 January 1987

“It is the sort of publication that should be mass-produced and made easily available to every man, woman and child so that they might see the meaning of ‘A National Heritage’ with their own eyes. They will understand as well as Nihal Fernando does, why that heritage should be protected and conserved for future generations, just as the ancient Sri Lankans conserved and passed on that heritage to the present generation.” – J.D.N. Banks, Forum

“This volume is truly a great work of Art and generations to come will remember him for having preserved for them an insight into our environment which may forever vanish from this island.” – D.C.L. Amarasinghe, Daily News

“This is the soul song of a man in love with light, his country, and truth. Fernando does not manipulate his subjects or use special effects but simply makes you SEE when earlier you may have looked.”
– Malathi de Alwis, Sunday Island

“Robert Silva’s text matches the quality of Nihal’s photographs – splendid, vigorous language with constant references and quotations of a widely educated man, somewitmes with the madness of a poet but also sensitive, fearlessly reeling off dates and history without the ‘it has been said’ or ‘one can suppose’ of the nervous scholar.”
– Barbara Sansoni, Sunday Observer

“It is the work of an artist, the testament of a wordless poet, whose medium is the camera and who had devoted his life to record with selfless love the uniqueness of his island country, and in doing so has become one of its best interpreters. Underneath the visual delight it carries a protest against the rapists and those apathetic to who rape that uniqueness, and an unspoken warning that much of what the readers see in these pages, they may not see for long if the ravishing continues. It is a please to us all to reinstate ourselves in nature.” – Sunday Island, 11 January 1987




28x21 cm (portrait), 154 pages, 44 line pages, 223 photographs, Introduction by Ian Goonetileke

“… a charismatic book on our precious isle by two of its best photographers Nihal Fernando and Luxshmanan Nadaraja. Serendip to Sri Lanka : Immemorial Isle is the latest Studio Times publication ‘to aid and abet the appreciation of a time-honoured paradise and often tragically misunderstood piece of earth. A professional anthem to the compilers’ delicate insight, critical flair and discerning love of an island traversed from end to end, ceaselessly discovered and rediscovered with a rare sensitivity to the essence of its charm, its splendours and its graces,’ writes Ian Goonetileke.’ ” – Daily News, 2 November 1991

“When you look at a picture, it tells you who you are, what your thoughts and feelings are. If you can sort it out clearly, you can become a better person. This is what Serendip to Sri Lanka : Immemorial Isle, did for me and if you fortunate, it will benefit you too.” – B.J.B Fernando, The Island, 26 October 1991

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Friday, April 01, 2011


Studio Times Publications:
1. 1965 The Handbook for the Ceylon Farmer (1st Edition) - Out of Print
2. 1967 Horton Plains (A Leaflet) - Out of Print
3. 1974 The Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller (1st Edition) - Out of Print
4. 1978 The Handbook for the Ceylon Farmer (Revised 2nd Edition) - Available
5. 1983 The Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller (Revised 2nd Edition) - Available
6. 1986 The Wild The Free The Beautiful by Nihal Fernando - Out of Print
7. 1991 Serendip to Sri Lanka: Immemorial Isle by Nihal Fernando &
Luxshmanan Nadaraja - Out of Print
8. 1997 Sri Lanka: A Personal Odyssey by Nihal Fernando (2 print runs) - Available
9. 2000 Govi Athpotha (A Revised, Updated Version of The Handbook
for the Ceylon Farmer in Sinhala) - Available
10. 2006 With the Dawn by Nihal Fernando & Herbert Keuneman - Available
11. 2008 Eloquence in Stone. The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka by Nihal Fernando, SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, Anu Weerasuriya,
Luxshmanan Nadaraja, Christopher Silva, Devaka Seneviratne, Roshan Perret - Available

All books which are not Out of Print are available at Studio Times Ltd., 16/1 Skelton Road, Colombo 5. + 94 11 2589062.
For overseas orders quotations inclusive of EMS post can be supplied


Friday, November 05, 2010


Tuesday, October 05, 2010