People & Place

Papaya and lime, coconut and fish

Rafaela Pandolfini is a lover. A lady armed with a camera, on a mission to capture beauty. With an eye for detail, Rafaela searches out ritual in contemporary life, from the everyday to the ceremonial, from the spirituality of temples to the late-night paganism of a sweaty dance floor. Here, Rafaela shares selected images from her ‘Sri Lanka on film’ series, shot on a honeymoon of sorts.

“Cinnamon, M.I.A and Michael Ondaatje drew me to Sri Lanka. Ondaatje wrote one of my favourite poems, The Cinnamon Peeler, which I photocopied and gave to my partner Dom when I fell in love with him. Sri Lanka seemed an apt place to go for our ‘honeymoon’ as I called it. It was our first and last hurrah. Our first trip together, our last trip together without our daughter who was just the size of an avocado inside me at the time. Often the way I remember a place is out of the corner of my eye, when I look back over my images of travel. In these images, I see romance, texture, odd moments, colour, an air of sadness and many glimmers of excitement and hope. The experience of the privileged tourist. The first day we were there was a Sunday. Next to our hotel was a large park overlooking the beach. Though it was a very grey day, there were hundreds of bright colourful kites, ice cream trucks and canoodling under silver umbrellas. The feeling was festive.

You didn’t have to travel far to see the effect of the tsunami and more poverty than what was obvious in Colombo. The houses that remained or had been rebuilt were amazing. Concrete structures made for hot weather and an outdoor lifestyle, painted bright turquoise, terracotta orange and pale blue. On more than one occasion we were the only guests at the hotels we stayed in and it felt like we were perhaps the first for quite some time. This made for some pretty amazing and awkward Faulty Towers-style experiences. People were friendly and accommodating, they were proud and brave. Those we spoke to seemed pleased that a sense of calm had been restored and that tourists were slowly returning. The women we encountered were unbelievably beautiful and strong, so elegant… though I believe there is still a long way to go for women’s rights, especially in the conflict-affected north and east. Another highlight was the architecture of the prolific and inventive Geoffrey Bawa. He is a complete radical. I don’t quite have the words to describe his many buildings throughout Sri Lanka. They are glorious to be in.

Dom, a keen adult boogie boarder, wanted to check out the well-known surfing spot in Arugam. One day, Dom paddled out while I sat on the sand like a dutiful girlfriend. While I lounged on the scorching sand, a large group of about 40 women arrived in burqas with only their eyes visible. They were on a holiday or day trip. After a couple of women started splashing around in the shallows, they all joined in. Playfully running around, giggling and squealing loudly, a magical scene.”

Rafaela Pandolfini is a Sydney-based photographer and video artist. Through intricate studies of performance, dance and the decorative, Rafaela explores contemporary ritual. Since 2000, Rafaela has travelled extensively with the wandering, keen eye of a photographer.  In January 2013, Rafaela will exhibit a solo exhibition at First Draft Gallery in Sydney. Her images of nightlife are often published online in The Thousands, Good God Small Club and Oyster. Her work is held privately in collections throughout Australia, the UK & USA. All images above are from the ‘Sri Lanka on Film’ (2010) series. Huge thanks to Raffi for sharing her work.