Sudath Silva - the man behind the picture
Those who have exceptional skills in the field of publishing,
especially in the highly competitive area of newspapers and magazines,
are often described as persons who have printer’s ink running in their
veins. Similarly, photographers of an older genre, whose work involved
much more than the focusing, shooting and editing of today’s digital
age, were considered persons who had the feel of the studio dark room
and the scent of the fixing chemicals in their system.
Sudath Silva, who celebrates 25 years in photography, is one who has
grown up in the hard old school of photography, graduating from the days
of the film roll and dark room experience to the immense possibilities
of the digital camera and the instant photo.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa holding a child in his hands.
Pictures by Sudath Silva
The son of Gunasiri Silva, who owned his own studio complete with
props for special moods and events, and the camera where the
photographer hid under a cape and insisted on “cheese” for that
essential smile just as the lens is uncovered, Sudath grew up in the
aura of old world photography, helping his father with developing films
in the dim red light of the dark room, fixing bath and special papers
He saw a more exciting area of photography when his father, known for
his spirit of adventure and dissenting political views, moved into media
photography, joining the then daring field of alternate journalism in
Sinhala, as a photographer of the Aththa, the daily newspaper of the
Communist Party of Sri Lanka, edited by the late B.A. Siriwardena, that
blazed a whole new trail in journalism in the country.
It is with such a background, that Sudath joined the Department of
Information as a photographer in 1995.
He was quick to move into the field of official photography, which at
the time was not confined to the capture of politicians in routine
functions on film, but also included considerable work in the area of
development, especially in the rural areas.
He saw the challenges of photography in many aspects of development
from agriculture and fisheries, emerging industry and the new interest
in cultural activities.
It is from this that he moved on to what he is best known today -
Former Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and her son Anura
with former President R. Premadasa.
His previous experience from the film roll and dark room, his
father’s experience in photo journalism and his own later skills in
development photography has stood him in good stead, as he was given the
mantle of official photographer for four successive presidents of Sri
Lanka. It is a daunting challenge that Sudath accepted, aware of the
difficulties of working with presidents who have their own distinction
in personality, as well as likes and dislikes in how they are
photographed and how they are seen by the people.
From President Ranasinghe Premadasa with his huge populist intent, to
the comparably quiet term of President Wijetunga, to a much more
demanding and eventful 11 years of the Chandrika Kumaratunga Presidency
and the current and contemporary demands of the Mahinda Rajapaksa era
with its multi-faceted interests and events and a president who insists
on moving closer among the people, much to the concern of his security
advisors, Sudath Silva has demonstrated an exceptional versatility in
Whether on the trail of a serving president at home or abroad, Sudath
is known for his knowledge and respect for protocol, the dignity of
events, as well as the importance of the unusual in the photography of
Clicking a President when off one’s guard, if the picture is
exciting, or capturing an event that is out of the common run of
unveiling a plaque, cutting the first sod to launch a development
project, planting a tree as a record for posterity, is part of the
success of his photographic record of the past twenty five years and
Whether it is the lifting and kissing an infant at Vakarai by
President Rajapaksa, or the rarely seen action of today’s President
playing rugby with his three rugby playing sons, to President
Kumaratunga being helped by the German Chancellor to put her coat on or
President Premadasa enjoying recalling his early skills in barefoot
football, Sudath has had his camera at the ready to capture the events
that move the people and show the human touch of Presidents who have
been compelled to be distant from the people for reasons of security and
the trappings of office and power.
Rajatha Dekma is a rare celebration of a silver jubilee of
photography by a personality to whom photography is both life and
profession and the best form of expression.
With his tremendous skills, commitment to quality and respect for the
ever demanding deadline, Sudath Silva will no doubt have many more
successful years behind the lens, which will add to his exceptional
record as the man behind the picture.