The Island from above ariel exhibition
Sri Lanka: The Island from Above
by Dominic Sansoni, Sebastian Posingis & Richard Simon
For years, Dominic Sansoni dreamed of photographing Sri Lanka from the air. Having extensively
documented the island’s multicultural populace, its urban and rural beauties, its architecture, its
culture and festivals and even its wars, he had come to be acknowledged as the most successful and
artistically committed Sri Lankan photographer of his generation; yet he found himself still unable to
attain the longed-for aerial perspective.
It wasn’t his fault. The arc of Dominic’s career, which began in the early Eighties, had coincided
almost exactly with that of Sri Lanka’s long, bloody civil conflict. Due to the ‘prevailing security
situation’, official restrictions were placed on domestic civil aviation during this time. Aerial
photography, which could provide important information to the enemy, was banned outright. Now
and then, in the course of some assignment that involved internal air travel, Dominic would sneak a
picture through the window of whatever aircraft he happened to be flying in, but these images rarely
After the war ended in 2009, the irksome restrictions were lifted. Yet even now the dream
remained unrealized. Until the recent advent of remote-controlled camera-carrying drones, aerial
photography was prohibitively costly: planes and helicopters don’t come cheap. It was also rather
dangerous: many of the images Dominic and his colleague Sebastian Posingis wanted to capture
would involve close passesat low altitude, often in remote parts of the country. Just any old pilot
wouldn’t do; they needed someone with the flying hours, the skill and the nerve for the job.
Five years passed. They were productive years for the two photographers. Dominic consolidated
his now well-established reputation; Sebastian built his own with a series of successful international
assignments and books such as Uniquely Maldives, In Search of Bawa and The New Sri Lankan House. Still
the skies obstinately refused to open.
Then Access International came calling. The business group, one of the country’s largest, was
about to celebrate its silver jubilee and wanted to commemorate the occasion in an original and
meaningful way. Access approached Dominic with an open brief; his response was to propose a
book of aerial photographs of Sri Lanka, taken by himself and Sebastian. Despite the enormous cost
and the difficulties involved, Access immediately embraced the idea, undertaking to provide all the
necessary inputs – including a helicopter and combat-seasoned aircrew from the Sri Lanka Air Force
– and coordinate most of the operation into the bargain.
In early 2013, the shooting began. Dominic and Sebastian, with writer Richard Simon in tow,
flew all over Sri Lanka, first tracing the coastline, then making a series of flights across the interior of
the island. Over several weeks, they exposed more than 30,000 images taken at heights ranging from
1,000ft to near ground level. The subjects were towns and wildernesses, paddy fields and tea
plantations, people at work and play, domestic animals and wildlife; mountains, forests, waterfalls,
rivers, beaches and offshore islands; dagobas, temples, mosques and churches; in short, the whole
awe-inspiring pageant of Sri Lankan beauty.
Opulently printed and bound, Sri Lanka: The Island from Abovewas launched during the Access
International jubilee celebrations and made its way into the hands of a select few – national leaders,
foreign diplomats, valued customers and business associates, senior executives of the group itself.
And with this few it has, for the most part, remained: a work of art inaccessible to the general public.
Realizing this, and understanding that such important work deserved a wider viewership, Access
generously allowed the rights to the images and text to remain with their creators. This made it
possible, after a suitable lapse of time, to produce a new edition of The Island From Above, one that
could be affordably distributed and sold to the public.
Last year, following the appearance of another Sansoni-Posingis-Simon book, Ceylon Tea: The
Trade that Made A Nation, the trio began work on a new, expanded edition of The Island from Above.
The brief was not to replicate the Access book in cheaper form, but to start afresh with a revised,
slightly different selection of photographs.Now, for the first time, it became possible for some of
Dominic and Sebastian’s older, ‘stolen’ aerial images to appear in the light of day; added to the trove
of photos from the Access shoot, they expand the geographical and aesthetic range of the book.
Thissecond edition also features a slightly larger format, as well as a smart, eye-catching dust-jacket
and a new preface by Richard Simon.
The revised edition of Sri Lanka: The Island from Above, will be launched on 25 November and
will appear in bookshops shortly thereafter. With this, a unique and important addition to the corpus
of Sri Lankan photography finally makes its public debut.
Barefoot Gallery serves as a platform for artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers
The Colombo Gallery was begun by Barbara Sansoni in 1967 and had its home in Anderson Road in a building designed by Ulrik Plesner. The Colombo Gallery became Gallery 706 and that became the BAREFOOT GALLERY in the mid-nineties, which serves as a platform for artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers in Colombo.