These images converge themes of inner transformation, colonialism, and tourism. Taken by Joseph Lawton in 1870, the images depict Mihintale; a sacred site in Sri Lanka where a stone staircase of around 1,800 steps climbs up the mountain. It’s an unconscious but potent symbol of a journey toward the self, of inner ascent. These images capture the pilgrimage through pilgrim and their path, and hint at a story of emotional and spiritual transformation that travellers undergo in their journey.
The traveller's experience reciprocates with the place, leaving an imprint while also being imprinted upon. This interplay forms a lasting connection, integrating the traveller's narrative with the place's history.
Lawton, who visited the island as a British native during the colonial rule of Sri Lanka, probably viewed this distant place through wonder and amazement. Today, over a century later, his work triggers stories on the impact of visitors, of colonialism and tourism. Outsider perspectives can commodify the sacred, affecting authenticity and local dynamics. The influx of tourists brings both enrichment and exploitation, highlighting the complexities of cultural exchange. Visitors carry expectations to places, influencing their encounters. Migration weaves diverse stories into a place, fostering a symbiotic relationship. The question remains: does a place hold the traveller's echo, as much as a traveller carries the place's essence?
We’ve recreated Lawton’s images as a screenprint that prompts us to ponder our role in shaping places and the enduring resonance of our interactions with them.
Did you shape me, or did I shape you? One-colour screenprint