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Passion Made: Photographer shares a passion for nature

The photographs of Safani Gunasekera are eye-catching portraits of nature; 'Everything I see, I see something in it'

As a kid growing up in Sri Lanka, Safani Gunasekera loved photography. It's a love affair that is ongoing.

“When I was in school, my father bought me a very small Kodak camera, a 110. It didn’t even have a flash,” she said. 

For young Safani, though, it provided a new way of looking at the natural world and the animals and scenery that surrounded her.

“Always animals and scenery – no people in my photographs.”

It wasn’t until she married, and she and husband Pankaja moved to Canada in 2005 that she got her first DSLR – a Nikon, with a zoom lens.

Suddenly, her window on the world expanded. It wasn’t unusual for Gunasekera to take her camera as she walked through her community, snapping photos. “

It’s just nature,” she said. “Everything I see, I see something in it.”

Her rambles would be followed by hours on the computer “just looking at the pictures,” she said.

With Pankaja at her side – “He’s my biggest critic.” – Gunasekera would go through the photographs of the day, evaluate each shot, looking at what worked, what didn’t, what would have made the photo better, and occasionally printing off a favourite.  

When the couple moved to Bradford in 2013, she turned her lens on her new community: its fields, sunsets, historic buildings, trails, and wildlife.

“These days I’m on a beaver watch,” she said, heading out early in the morning to watch beavers building a dam on a stormwater management pond south of Zehrs Market.

“It’s a huge dam. They are working really hard, cutting down trees,” she said.

But some of her best photos have been taken on trips, both in Ontario and abroad.

Gunasekera travelled up to Algonquin Park, where the dramatic scenery and the moose caught her eye, and to Toronto, for High Park’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

And every two years, she and Pankaja head back to Sri Lanka to visit family and friends, and the country’s national parks. It’s where Gunasekera has taken some of her favourite and most evocative photos, including shots of a young leopard.

“He was taking his evening nap on a big rock boulder,” she remembered. She took about 200 photos, capturing the leopard yawning and staring unnervingly into the camera.

Until recently, her photos sat on the computer – now numbering over 10,000 – or on the walls of her Bradford home.

“It was our friends who suggested that instead of just saving the photos, I show them,” Gunasekera said.

She entered the BWG Studio Art Tour group show and sold five of her photos in her first year.

She will be back as part of this year’s BWG PASSION MADE artisan’s tour, Sept. 21 and 22, displaying her works with other artists and artisans at the Bradford Library, at 425 Holland St. W.

So far, that’s the only place her works can be viewed, other than on her website,

“I have shown my photos only at the studio tour. I haven’t taken my pictures anywhere else,” Gunasekera said.

But her goal is now a solo show, locally, and to share her passion for the natural world.

“Maybe display my pictures, have an exhibition, so people will be able to see my work,” Gunasekera said. “Especially the ones I have taken in Sri Lanka, because they are so different.”

Thanks to the BWG Public Library, she will have her wish. Gunasekera has been invited to hold a show of her photographs this November at Bradford Library. “I’m so happy the town is giving me these opportunities,” she said.

Check out the photographs of Safani Gunasekera on line or at the BWG PASSION MADE artisan’s tour, Sept. 21 and 22.

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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