Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Ladies of Sigiriya

The Maidens of Sigiriya, 6th C., Sri Lanka
Yes, I am primarily a wildlife photographer, but that doesn't mean I am immune to the charms of history and art. On our recent trip to Sri Lanka, we took time out from chasing endangered species through the dwindling scraps of forest to see some of that island's many stunning archeological sites. By far our favorite was the rock-palace at Sigiriya, a well-deserved World Heritage Site.  It is the location for an amazing story of a bastard prince who, in the 6th century AD,  killed his father and stole his throne, and set about building the ultimate pleasure palace atop a rock monolith in the center of the island. We spent a day there and were blown away by the stunning architecture and engineering of this ancient site, with its gravity-fed fountains and sophisticated running water systems.

But nothing moved me more than the cluster of paintings perched high on a cliff which revealed - in startling color and detail - the existence of a rich secular life rarely depicted in a country whose art typically consists of endless, mind-numbing images of Buddha. These paintings are one of Sri Lanka's national treasures.

The half-dozen images of voluptuous females are all that has survived from what was once a vast collection of frescoes, and are as detailed and colorful as they must have been 1500 years ago. Frankly, I found them breathtaking. And happily, I was able to bend the rules a bit and carry a tripod up a series of rusty ladders to the site to shoot these marvelous paintings in very dim light.

Are these ground-breaking or creative photographs?  No, the maidens - depicted at life-size -  have been well-photographed before, and they presented no technical challenge (one-second exposures at f22). Nonetheless, taking the pictures myself was part of the thrill of being there, and a highlight of our time in Sri Lanka. ... which is why I can't help sharing them with you.

Meanwhile, I've been busy editing the wildlife material today, and will post more of that soon.

Nikon D3, 24-70mm lens, Gitzo Tripod

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