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Paths to the Peak

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‘Paths to the Peak: Ecology, Landscape and Culture on Sri Lanka’s Sacred Mountain’ is an exhibition of 41 colour and black and white images by artist Ian Lockwood seeks to present a personal overview of the ecology, landscape and culture of Sri Lanka’s sacred mountain, Sri Pada.

The images consist of digital prints depicting portraits, landscapes and details from the pilgrimage. The images have been selected in order to present both an aesthetic and educational celebration of the many paths to the peaks and the landscapes that pilgrims encounter and some of the rituals of the pilgrimage. Maps and text panels created by the artist support the educational aspects of the exhibition.         

Ian Lockwood is an educator, photographer and writer with an enduring interest in the ecology, landscapes and cultures of South Asia. His family is originally from Boston, USA but has been living and working in South Asia for four generations. Ian’s paternal grandparents taught at Jaffna College for thirty years and his father Merrick was born in Vaddukoddai.

Photography has been a family past time and his father influenced an insatiable interest in black and white landscapes. Ian has published numerous articles and photo essays dealing with ecology, landscape and culture in India’s Western Ghats. He has exhibited his photographs in Dhaka, New Delhi, Mumbai and New York City. Ian has climbed Sri Pada 12 and a half times over the last six years.

In a statement, Lockwood revealed that over the last several decades he have been living in, leaving and then returning to the mountains in southern India. According to him, the geography, ecology, landscapes and cultures of South Asia crept into his consciousness at an early age and have continued to provide the focus of his work as a photographer, writer and educator. Family ties in the region and influences from his father were of particular significance in shaping his love for South Asia.

Growing up as an American awash in a multitude of nationalities, ethnicities and faiths, Lockwood came to identify with universal perspectives unencumbered by constricted ideologies. Interactions with natural landscapes and indigenous populations in the Western Ghats and Bengal incubated a deeper connection to the planet and he says that his relationship with these mountains, forests and cultures in experience, word and image has come to be a key focal point in his human journey.

An effort to balance eclectic goals of documentation, edification, conservation and aesthetics is reflected in his work. Lockwood makes a living as an international educator and teaches ecological and geographic concepts which are also woven into his writing and photography. Travelling, exploring and getting to know the subcontinent intimately has been an important passion project for him. Lockwood also added that changes in ecology, land-use and human pressures have been a reoccurring and often distressing reality in South Asia during his short lifetime.

In this exhibition, he has chosen to narrow his focus to a few regions where he has had an enduring relationship. The landscapes that he photographs and share in publications and exhibitions are not an attempt at creating a ‘picturesque’ vision of South Asian scenes. More critical is an intention to paint a varied mosaic that facilitates fresh perspectives on the area’s landscapes, ecology and cultures.

He did admit that it was at times hard to avoid the sublime in the scenery and some of the work celebrates this aspect of the landscape. The documentation aspect of Lockwood’s work seeks to record landscapes and human interaction now. Aesthetically he is more interested in photography as an art form and its ability to tell a compelling story through imagery.

The artist believes in doing as much of the image production as possible, something that contributes to an unhurried rate of productivity. This extends beyond the production of images, to the creation of appropriate text, maps, page spreads and other material that help paint a holistic image of a theme. He explained that he came of age in an era of wet darkrooms and was inspired by the 20th Century American landscape and social-documentary photographers.

Much of his work has been shot, developed and printed using black and white film and paper. This was partly a practical response to poor colour lab access and a desire to control the final prints. In using black and white, Lockwood seeks to present little-recognised areas in a way that elevates a message of conservation in shadow lines and nuanced silver and ebony.

However, with the advent of digital photography in the last 10 years, he has been doing less work with film and reinterpreting the same themes and muses with this new and versatile medium. He remains interested in high levels of technical reproduction, an effective understanding of light and attention to detail that tells an authentic story.

‘Paths to the Peak: Ecology, Landscape and Culture on Sri Lanka’s Sacred Mountain’ was launched at the Barefoot Gallery yesterday and will remain open until 5 June.

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