From the mid-19th century on, Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, was an exotic destination that many a world traveller yearned to visit.
Starting in the 1860s, a number of photographic studios established themselves on the island, producing artistically ambitious photographs for an illustrious clientele. Among the most famous photographers from this era were William Louis Henry Skeen, Charles Thomas Scowen, as well as the Hamburg-born photographer Alfred William Amandus Plate, whose studio in the late 19th century expanded into a large-scale commercial enterprise that tried to satisfy the public's hunger for postcard images. The images produced by these photographers played a crucial role in spreading, to the far corners of the British Empire and beyond, the myth of Ceylon as an Arcadia-like tropical island.
Now, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Sri Lanka and Germany, the Museum für Asiatische Kunst is showing an exquisite selection of extremely rare landscape photographs from and of Ceylon. The vintage prints presented in the exhibition not only depict Arcadian landscapes, wildly romantic waterfalls, and exotic beaches but also the encroachment of civilization in the natural landscape, be it through extensive plantations or through settlement, whereby we witness the magnitude of the changes that were wrought to the 'island of dreams' even in the 19th century.
A richly illustrated, bilingual catalogue (English/German) has been released to accompany to the exhibition:
Raffael Dedo Gadebusch (ed.): Landscapes of Sri Lanka - Early Photography in Ceylon / Frühe Fotografie in Ceylon, Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-88609-745-6.
Curator: Raffael Dedo Gadebusch
Assistant curator: Karoline Höppner
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