Despite this, there were and still are many questions left unanswered regarding the last days of the war and the unknown number of people that are still missing and unaccounted for. At this time, the East, but particularly the North of Sri Lanka still had a substantial military presence and many people were still displaced.
The photographs that I produced during this time were initially to be focused on the work of women human rights workers and peace activists. Due to the political tension between the government and NGO’s of this nature and partly due to the release of Channel 4’s harrowing documentary, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, this became complicated. The documentary called for an investigation in to the last days of the war and provided evidence of war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). The government became even more sensitive to the presence of foreign media and the people that were willing to be involved in the work became understandably nervous. This situation meant that my focus had to widen.
During my time in Sri Lanka I set myself to meeting with as many people as possible to talk about their experiences, their thoughts on the current situation in Sri Lanka and the positive changes that they were seeing. People spoke of communities coming together and being given the opportunity to communicate between different faiths without fear. Many people, but not all, spoke of the future and were hopeful that the problems of the past were going to be overcome and one day, resolved. A handful of these people were eventually willing subjects and I produced a series of black and white portraits using a large format camera.
This experience taught me that patience is essential and gaining a deeper understanding of the history of a place through its people is key to producing work of value. Slowing down the process of taking a photograph itself by using a large format camera gave me the opportunity to create time and space to engage with the person in front of my lens. This more personal interaction helps me to capture the quiet, in between moments where truth and sincerity can appear.
Whilst travelling the country I photographed places that had been destroyed by the tsunami, communities living in isolated areas of the mountains, the streets of Colombo and the fieldwork of peace keeping organisations. I did this in the hope that, through photography, I could return to continue the project with a compassionate understanding of the country and its history.
It is an important time for Sri Lanka as a country. Earlier this year, a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, took up office marking a surprise end to the decade long rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family. This will hopefully bring true democracy to Sri Lanka and reconciliation between the Sinhalese, Buddhist and Tamil communities.
I plan on returning to the North of Sri Lanka to complete this project. I would like to produce a body of work that tells the story of a country in recovery. I would like to do this by telling the stories of individual women; women who inspire strength in others, either through providing a voice through politics, encouraging expression through the arts, or those who focus on providing a safe community for others. I am interested in the role of women in reconciliation and how this is changing. Through this work, I would like to document the resilience of the human condition whilst highlighting the importance of coming to terms with the past.