Primitive technology in a photography special! 

In those early days, Bonsoir worked with comparatively very primitive machinery. Special effects were unheard of. It was a matter of basic this and basic that all the way. 

We didn’t give in. We challenged ourselves. We wanted to go beyond our technical limitations and do what television producers in France were doing at that time. And so every week was a challenge to Yasmin, Chintha, myself, and the rest of the team. 

One bright and sunny morning in walked Madam Rajapakse, cheerfully announcing: “Here, I’m going to do a programme on black and white photography right?” 

“Wow,” I said. “Great idea. When?.” “Immediately,” she shot back and set to work. Yaz had this great idea of us (she and I) not “presenting” the programme in our customary manner, but rather appearing as “talking” still photographs. It was an interesting idea in those early days of television in Sri Lanka. 

Robert Doisneau

She thoroughly researched the subject and brought in as many diverse elements as possible to make it rounded and more interesting. I think she even featured the celebrated Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier Bresson. 

A photograph had to be in a frame and at that time we couldn’t dream of a computer-generated frame. Such things didn’t exist. And so she draped our two studio screens with black fabric and brought them together leaving about a three-foot gap in between (like a doorway). Behind these screens was our large gray curtain cum backdrop. 

We sat on the carpet on the ground in the space between these two screens. There she was in a knee-length white frilly dress, looking très petite and demure with a long pastel pink ribbon in her hair. I settled for black trousers, white long-sleeved shirt, and black bow. 

Anyone looking at us from any angle would have thought this to be quite an unreal and ridiculous proposition…BUT through the camera viewfinder it looked rather convincing. 

Chintha placed two lights at floor level on either side. There was another exactly above our heads. We were being “bathed” in light. The effect was “wow”, we were convinced. 

Henri Cartier Bresson

And then came the recording proper. We had to strike different poses, f-r-e-e-z-e, stop breathing, and slowly count upto 60 in our heads. “People in still photographs don’t breathe,” she told me. “They’re still.” How on earth could I disagree? 

Now this was the most agonising part. My temperamental sinuses played up that morning and I ended with a runny nose which required very frequent clearing and cleaning. How does one with a runny nose freeze and be still…I had no choice…

Worse still was striking those poses and not laughing into each other’s faces. The first few takes were impossible. We always ended up bursting into laughter into each other’s faces and taking double that time to recover, compose ourselves, and start all over again. 

Chintha’s patience began to wear thin. The studio began to get hot with the air conditioners switched off and so compulsion made us freeze into still photographs. There was no choice. Voilà we did it. 

The feedback we got from viewers was very complimentary. They wondered how we managed to convert ourselves into black and white still photographs. 

I simply said that we got the photographs taken in a studio, enlarged them, filmed them for convenience, and added our voices as narration. We didn’t want to let our secret out. Well…that secret too IS out…