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Henry Rajakaruna | (Pic by Sassanda Liyanarachchi)

‘Sometimes the photographer must do something to create that environment for the picture. Today if a photographer does something similar with a person in power, he might be in trouble’

Award winning veteran photographer Henry Rajakaruna has the potential to surprise if you bump into him for the first time. The guy is so simple and down-to-earth despite his illustrious career which has spanned 55 years. He even dresses simple and shows an interest to talk to you and make you feel at home, if you happen to visit him at his residence, in Pelawatte.

This is what he exactly did when the weekend Nation visited him last Tuesday to take a peep into his life and career, the latter which has reached international heights. During the years spent doing photography, he has won 55 international awards. The last award presented to him was in Belgium this year where a photograph submitted in the ‘Travel Category’ at the Flash Music Photo Exhibition caught the judges’ attention.

Henry said he likes to see photographs that capture human emotion. “Not all photographs can be taken to show this aspect of life. But an effort must be taken to show something unusual. The picture must show something that the layman’s eyes fail to see,” is how Henry began an interesting chit chat which lasted one hour.

He recalled with interest the picture taken by Yusuf Kash of Winston Churchill, where Kash had tugged at the cigar the former UK statesman was smoking. “Sometimes the photographer must do something to create that environment for the picture. Today if a photographer does something similar with a person in power, he might be in trouble,” laughed Henry hinting that the role of a present-day photographer is challenging.
If the environment is not ready to ‘click’, then the photographer will have to have great patience. Henry remembered how he often approaches a scene where there is potential to capture an individual. He said he would first focus on something in the vicinity of the human being and then, when he or she isn’t looking, capture the person at the right moment. Henry has had trouble getting people to cooperate when he asks permission from them to be photographed. During his travels abroad, he has observed that people in countries like India and Thailand cooperate better with photographers.

He showed interest in photography at the age of 15 and bought his first camera with the pocket money given to him. He took the course that destiny had mapped out for him and learnt the art of photography through teachers and by enrolling at the College of Fine Arts. There is so much that he learnt from his peers, some, according to him who enjoyed celebrity status despite being photographers. “During my early years, photography was a reputed job and brought a decent income,” said Henry who fine-tuned his photography skills thanks to the tutelage of B.P Weerawardene and Wilson Hegoda.

At present, he is the only photographer in Sri Lanka who holds the title ‘Master Photographer Internationale De L’Art Photographique’ (MFIAP). “I was presented this title in three stages. First, one must apply for the AFIAP which is then followed by EFIAP. The third title is presented only if you can show a significant difference in the photos you take. A candidate for this qualification must send a portfolio comprising 20 photos and write a 200-word essay describing them. A panel comprising nine directors accepted my portfolio in the year 2013,” said a contended Henry.

The 75-year-old’s eyes rolled into the distance when asked whether Sri Lanka has a proper gallery for photographers to exhibit their photos. “This is one of the major problems encountered by photographers. This year in August, the Adversary Board for Photography appointed by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs organized an event titled Photographers’ Day at Ape Gama. We highlighted to the authorities present that day of the need for a gallery to help photographers exhibit their photographs,” said Henry.
He is still active with his camera and has observed the new trends in photography. Henry observed that photography is a subject that is growing rapidly. Thanks to social media platforms like FaceBook, photography is something which people can’t live without, even for a day. “All this focus on photography and the camera is good. But what must be mentioned is that photography is not about the tool, but more about what is produced following a ‘click’,” said Henry.

Here is a man who has seen the world through many lenses. Some of the villages that gave him memorable photographs have turned into developed places. Henry has aged gracefully, but his enthusiasm to work with the camera hasn’t diminished. Photography for Henry has been a long trek. In the sands of time, Henry has travelled far and wide. In doing so he has left many footprints, those which will never be erased.

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