A Busy Morning at the Onion Store

4th Cross Street, Pettah. September 2022. The wholesalers of Colombo’s market district keep the capital’s supermarkets, grocery stores, and restaurants supplied with produce trucked in each day from all across Sri Lanka and, without them, the city would go hungry.

• 35mm • f/2.8 • 1/200 • ISO400 • Canon R6 & RF 35/1.8 courtesy Canon/Metropolitan


Karawala Mudalali

A dry fish merchant (or karawala mudalali), surrounded by his pungent stock. Keyzer Street, Pettah. January 2023.

• 22mm • f/4 • 1/125 • ISO4000 • R6 & RF14-35/4L •

No 13A in Tamil Town

A busy Friday evening in Pettah, Colombo’s main shopping and market district. January 2023. Interestingly, while the city of Colombo is mostly Tamil-speaking (over 60% of the residents are Tamil or Tamil-speaking Moors), the sign in the foreground prohibiting parking is only in Sinhalese (the majority language of Sri Lanka), reflecting decades of Sinhalese-dominated governance that many believe has contributed to ethnic conflict. The controversial 13th Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Parliament in 1987, legislated that, amongst other things, Tamil be elevated to the status of an official language, alongside Sinhalese, and that all official communications be in both languages. However, more than thirty-five years later, many clauses of the amendment remain unenforced, despite Tamil demands for equal treatment.

• 35mm • f/4 • 1/100 • ISO2000 • Canon R6 & RF14-35/4L •

Sometimes Life Gives You Oranges

Six for two-hundred bucks, on 2nd Cross Street, Pettah. January 2023.

• 35mm • f/4 • 1/125 • ISO1250 • R6 & RF14-35/4L •

Evil Eye

Sri Lanka’s Lotus Tower is probably the most easily noticeable symbol of the government corruption and ineptitude that brought on the worst economic catastrophe in the island nation’s history. Ordered by former President Mahinda Rajapakse in 2012, the tower, the tallest in South Asia, and visible from practically every part of the capital, Colombo, is viewed by many as a vanity project, costing as much as $104 million to build, but with little use beyond glorifying the leadership of the former president and his party (the Sri Lanka Podujana Pakshaya’s symbol is a lotus). This photograph was taken from 5th Cross Street, in the city’s market district of Pettah, in January 2023.

• 35mm • f/4 • 1/100 • ISO6400 • R6 & RF14-35/4L •

Karawala Karayo

Dry fish merchants, surrounded by their pungent stock. Keyzer Street, Pettah. January 2023.

• 14mm • f/4 • 1/125 • ISO2500 • R6 & RF14-35/4L •

Evening in Pettah

Prince and 2nd Cross streets, Pettah. January 2023. If there ever had been a Tintin in Ceylon, this would be the place in one of those large illustrations a la The Calculus Affair or Tintin in Tibet.

• 14mm • f/4 • 1/100 • ISO1250 • R6 & RF14-35/4L •

Morning Tea in Pettah

John purveys his super tea all along 4th Cross Street and the surrounding warren of lanes and alleys that make up the Keyzer Street Market, offering the naattamis, traders, and lorry drivers a refreshing break in their work of hauling, stocking, and selling the dry goods that keep the city fed. Colombo, September 2022.

• 35mm • f/2.8 • 1/640 • ISO400 • Canon R6 & RF 35/1.8 courtesy Canon/Metropolitan

“Those Days when We were Young…”

Thus begins the familiar tale often heard when older people lament the prices of things today. But in a Sri Lanka staggering under an economic disaster unknown in modern history, skyrocketing inflation has made the ‘Good Ol’ Days’ seem like just yesterday. In this April 2018 picture, shot for a J Walter Thompson market study, salted prawns at the FOSE Market, in Pettah, Colombo’s main market district, go for just Rs100 (about 65 US cents at the time) for 100g. Today, the rupee price of this is almost seven times higher (though still just under $2, due to the nose-diving rupee).

• 105mm • f/4 • 1/50 • ISO400 •

Let Them Eat Cake

Vendors in the Maharagama textile bazaar, in April 2018. Aside from a casually affectionate pose that is rarely seen under today’s social distancing norms, the huge bazaar, sprawling across Maharagama and Pamunuwa, just south of Colombo, has been shut down as part of an ongoing series of local and countrywide lockdowns imposed by the Government of Sri Lanka in May. A year into the pandemic, the population, financially exhausted and psychologically weary, were looking hopefully to the long-awaited Covid vaccine, which was rolled out in March. But governmental mismanagement of the process has ensured relatively few people actually receive their shots. Under attack for their bungling, the government has in turn blamed the public for not following pandemic rules which are often confusing and badly articulated by the authorities. For many, including small businessmen such as these, dependent on a daily income, lockdowns and restrictions on travel can mean financial ruin and are widely seen as a government punishing its people for its own corruption and ineptitude.