Special Feature — Mysteries in the Jungle: the Batatotalena Cave Temple

Current belief is that Batatotalena is the Divaguhawa of legend, though the argument on its authenticity goes on.

The characteristic triangular shape of an arch cave can be clearly seen at the mouth of Batatotalena.
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If I was a 16th Century Portuguese Photojournalist


And had the camera been invented, my photos of the Portuguese-Sinhalese wars might have looked a bit like this. Instead I’ve committed a bit of sacrilege and had a look at what all the fuss is about with AI, and used it to create a bunch of pictures from scratch. This is a first for my blog (and likely the last), since its whole point is to showcase my actual photography, but I thought this experiment was worth sharing.

This set of pictures is entirely AI-created, with even the prompts that created the images being composed by AI, with just a bit of editing (to the prompts, not the pictures), by me. It started off with me asking ChatGPT to give me a brief explanation of the 16th century Portuguese presence in the Colombo Fort. I then told this OpenAI chatbot to come up with a set of prompts which Midjourney could use to create pictures to illustrate its explanation. I then fed the prompts to Midjourney, adding that the pictures must look as if I had shot them on Kodak Tri-X film in my style of photography. These are the results.

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Women on the Wall

The Flagrock Bastion, Rampart Street, Galle Fort. In the distance is Point Utrecht, with the lighthouse built by the British in 1939 and, below it, the Meeran Jumma Masjid, a mosque built in 1904, in the distinct style of a Portuguese baroque cathedral. Shot on assignment for Panos Pictures and The Global Fund, in January 2022.*

*shot on a Canon EOS 5DMkIV & EF 24-105/f4L, courtesy Canon/Metropolitan.

Horse Frieze

Detail of an engraving depicting horses and chariots, in the 13th century Burg Thurant, a German castle on the Mosel. April 2017.

The Guns of Quebec

A Palliser-Converted Armstrong Rifled Muzzle-loading 80-pounder Gun on its rotating cast iron carriage, looks out over the ramparts of the Citadelle de Quebec’s du Roi Bastion, and across the St Lawrence River, to Lévis, on the far shore. Installed in 1879, twelve years after Canadian Confederation, the gun, weighing 5 tons, is the star fort’s second-largest artillery piece, only outclassed by an 8-inch gun weighing 12 tons, sited on the interestingly named Prince de Galle Bastion, overlooking Cap Blanc and the Plains of Abraham. While older French and British fortifications on Cap Diamant date back to the early 18th century, the current citadel was built by the Royal Engineers in the mid-19th century, as a consequence of the Anglo-American War of 1812. In 1943, La Citadelle hosted the Quebec Conference, a secret meeting between American President Franklin D Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Shot in the summer of 2000, on 35mm Fuji film.

Peter and the Goths

Though it looks like a scene out of a Harry Potter movie, there are no wizards here. Parts of the High Cathedral of St Peter, in the German city of Trier, share the same Gothic architecture as Durham Cathedral in England, the setting used for the interior shots of Hogwarts. While much of the German cathedral is in the Romanesque style, it was added to at length during the two-hundred and fifty years of its construction between the 11th and 13th centuries. One of the additions was this cloister with its Gothic vaulting. The cathedral houses the Seamless Robe of Jesus, a garment believed to have been worn by Christ at the time of His crucifixion, a nail from the True Cross, and the skull of St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Shot in August 2001, on 35mm Kodak film.

Royal Bath Attire

Sarath Wickramasinghe, one of the last masters of the ancient art of Dumbara weaving, poses with one of his most prized creations; a replica of a diya kachchiya, an 18th century bathing costume. Created for an exhibition, it is faithfully woven from traditional hemp (modern Dumbara weaving is in more versatile cotton or silk) and entirely of one piece, with no seams. It took Mr Wickramasinghe three weeks to weave the piece. The only other known example in existence, is an original in the Colombo National Museum which would have been worn by a Kandyan king or prince (bathing was often a social event; an important part in the daily schedule of any self-respecting royal). Shot on assignment in Thalagune, in the Dumbara Valley, for Serendib, the inflight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines. My photo story, ‘The Last Royal Weavers’, was the July 2017 issue‘s cover feature.

Special Feature — Retracing My Black July

A version of this post first ran in July 2008, on my blog, The Blacklight Arrow, under the title, ‘Black Thoughts’, and was later reproduced on Groundviews as ‘My Name is Cedric, do You Remember Me?’; part of a Black July anthology. With my intention to move some of my online writing to this site, I thought I would retrace my journey on that first day of the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom, from my school in Borella to my grand uncle’s home on Temple Road, Maradana, and on to my own home on St John’s Way, in Mutwal. So I walked and taxied across Colombo today, trying to find some of the places I had described thirteen years ago, and compare them to the images in my head from thirty-eight years ago. I took a few photos too.

Wesley College, Colombo, where generations of Blackers have graduated by the skin of their teeth, and yours truly, in June 1982, a year before Black July.

July usually passes me by without too much notice, beyond the vague worry that there might be a Tiger attack on Colombo, and a few flashbacks to that weekend in 1983. But this time it’s been a bit different. I’ve found myself reliving that day a lot more this year. It isn’t the fact that this is the 25th anniversary of the carnage which most people see as the starting point of our war, though that has been the focus of a lot of attention. What did it was a phone call a couple of weeks ago.

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The Gallery of Stone Antiquities

One of the oldest collections in the Colombo National Museum, the hall includes personal contributions from Sir William Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon at the time of the museum’s opening in 1877, ancient stone urinals, and statues of the Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu, and Ganesh. In the foreground is a sandstone water filter which still demonstrates its capabilities for the visitor’s gratification. Shot on assignment for Serendib, the inflight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines. My photo story, ‘Katu Ge, ran in the October 2017 issue.

Secret Roads

Hidden by layers of dead foliage from the rainforest canopy is a barely discernible path through the gloom. It has been here for over 16,000 years, when the earliest inhabitants of this island first set out through the jungle to find a new home in the foothills of what is now called the Peak Wilderness. At the end of this trail is the Batadombalena, a cave in which Balangoda Man (Homo sapiens balangodensis) lived with his family. Their skeletons were found in 1955. Spear- and arrowheads discovered in the cave in 1981 are the oldest evidence of the use of tools by modern humans outside Africa. Examination of Balangoda Man’s teeth in 2015 revealed a diet exclusive to the rainforest, indicating that man might have colonised the jungle as early as 45,000 years ago, well before the end of the Pleistocene period. The jungle has many secrets. How many more are still to be discovered? Shot on assignment for Serendib, the inflight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines. My photo story, ‘The Cave in the Jungle‘ ran in the March 2016 issue.