Sri Lanka Through Lionel Wendt's Lens

The photographer was deeply fascinated with his country's landscape and its people.

By Ayushi Thapliyal Updated: Sep 4, 2018 13:01:58 IST
Sri Lanka Through Lionel Wendt's Lens The Sprite That Mocketh Ever by Lionel Wendt. Gelatin silver print, 380 x 302 mm, circa 1930. Image credit: Copyright Lionel Wendt. Collection Nalin Tomar & Mahijit Singh, courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary.

Most of photographer Lionel Wendt's (1900-1944) works are lost, the negatives destroyed after his death. Some of the original prints published in Lionel Wendt's Ceylon (1950) have survived. Wendt, a powerful voice in colonial Sri Lanka, explored homosexual themes through his art at a time when it was taboo. This image appears to depict his fascination with his country's landscape and its people. But there's more. Nicky van Banning, curator of Ceylon at Huis Marseilles, Museum for Photography, Amsterdam, says there's "a clear artistic intention. The composition is carefully planned ... the situation may have been staged". Historian Robert Aldrich describes the picture in Cultural Encounters and Homoeroticism in Sri Lanka: Sex and Serendipity (2014) as "an androgynous-looking man bathing in a stream, squeezing water from his long hair, a barrier of branches separates the youth from the photographer".

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