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He captures spaces, and releases their beauty


Waruna Gomis, architect and architectural photographer, was in Bangalore recently to conduct an architectural photography college workshop. A look into his inspiring persona by Varna Shashidhar

Vital lessons: Waruna Gomis explains to students the nuances of architectural creations which include free movement of air inside a building and ideal placement of windows

David Robson in his book ‘Beyond Bawa' described Anjalendran as ‘the most charismatic and colourful and the least conventional of Sri Lankan architects'. His architecture too is as much about light and colour as it is about spatial experiences. Waruna Gomis is the young architect and architectural photographer who has captured Anjalendran's projects in the recent monograph ‘Anjalendran Architect of Sri Lanka' authored by David Robson and published by Tuttle Publishing. Waruna practices architecture and runs Light Angle Studio in Sri Lanka.

Waruna Gomis was in Bangalore recently to conduct an architectural photography workshop as a part of R.V. College of Architecture's annual exhibition. Waruna's workshop was well attended and appreciated by students of R.V. and other colleges in Karnataka.

Waruna spoke about his foray into architectural photography, his photographs from the monograph on Anjalendran and about the architecture that inspires him.

Learning to see

Waruna's journey into photography began as a student with Anjalendran's first-year class at CSA (City School of Architecture), Colombo. Anjalendran's ‘Experiencing Architecture' trips profoundly impacted Waruna. Around the same time his mother bought him a present — his first camera. “The camera changed my life!” exclaimed Waruna.

Anjalendran suggested that Waruna work at legendary Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa's office. Waruna worked there for about two years.

Sri Lanka has a rich history of arts. The '43 group as it was known consisted of the celebrated photographer and playwright Lionel Wendt, and George Keyt and Ivan Peiris, both artists, apart from Geoffrey Bawa.

Nucleus of creativity

Geoffrey Bawa gathered around him a circle of creative people such as Batik artist Ena de Silva, textile designer Barbara Sansoni, and artist Laki Senanayake and thus his office was the nucleus of creativity, art and architecture. Waruna's stories about his experiences at the Bawa office are delightful to listen to.

It was at Bawa's office that he helped compile drawings for David Robson, an authority on architecture in Sri Lanka, for the monograph on Bawa.

While working at Bawa's office, Waruna also had a chance to assist David Robson on one of his trips. He accompanied Robson on his trips to Piliyandala and Bawa's 5th Lane house. With much trepidation he asked Robson if he could look through the view-finder of the camera which the professor had set up to capture views of Bawa's architecture. Robson obliged and went on to explain the nuances of capturing spaces. David Robson became one of his early mentors in photography.

The transformation

It was also at Bawa's office that Waruna met Swedish architectural photographer Ake Eson Lindman. The Swedish photographer had come to Sri Lanka to photograph Bawa's buildings.

Architect Channa Dasawatte, who was Bawa's assistant at that time, suggested that Waruna accompany him on this trip. Waruna, not realising the impact that this trip would have on him, was rather reluctant to travel in his school holidays. But when he did, it transformed his way of seeing. Assisting Lindman on this assignment and watching through the view-finder how he captured the images impacted Waruna tremendously. Waruna continues to find inspiration in Lindman's work to date.

With Bawa's illness and subsequent death, Waruna moved on to other offices. Yet “there were so many lessons on art and life learnt in Bawa's office that somehow all the offices fell short of this spirit,” said Waruna.

Quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson (a photographer whose works has inspired Waruna greatly) ‘the camera is a sketch book, Waruna's camera was indeed his sketch book when he decided to travel with it through Sri Lanka when he was a student.

These travels were impromptu; he would go to the railway station and would take a train to any destination that the train would take him to, photographing all the while.

The clients follow

Shanth Fernando of Paradise Road Gallery, Colombo, was one of his first clients. Waruna has captured the architecture of several of the best Sri Lankan architects of the recent times.

He is currently working on a book that features the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya.

The pioneer

Sri Lanka's photography tradition was pioneered and made internationally known by Lionel Wendt and in recent times by Dominic Sansoni whose splendid images capture the essence of architecture, people and landscape of the country.

Geoffrey Bawa, through his brilliant architecture, made Asia and the rest of the world take notice of design in this tiny island country.

Waruna has this rich Sri Lankan design tradition to look up to while he pursues both architecture and photography!

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