Colombo is one of those incredible cities that has so many different angles to it. From old colonial buildings to gleaming skyscrapers and everything in between, its people are as diverse and colourful as its architecture. The city, with its street food, street markets, public parks, restaurants, and so much more, has a character all its own, and two creatives Nazly Ahmed and Kris Thomas, have recently collaborated on a book documenting the inimitable character of this unique city.
Colours of Colombo is an attempt to capture the magic in the mundane moments of everyday Colombo and show Colombo for the city it is – one where beauty and chaos can coexist in colourful harmony; through cultures, communities, and the constantly changing urban landscape, paying homage to the city, and to all those who live in it and call it home.
Brunch chatted with Kris and Nazly about Colours of Colombo and what the process of putting it together was like.
Coming together as creatives to document Colombo’s magic
Nazly, whose work was what inspired Colours of Colombo comes from an unusual professional background; starting his career as an IT programming developer, he’d always had a passion for photography, and this passion only grew once he got his first professional camera in 2012. His love for photography eventually led him to pursue a career in the arts, working in social media management while always keeping his camera on hand. Eventually, Nazly began working at Roar Media as a digital producer, which was where he met Kris, who is a Deputy Editor at Roar Media.
Colours of Colombo was something Nazly had been thinking about for quite some time. Over the years, while he had never framed himself as a specific kind of photographer, he had developed a liking (and a knack) for street photography, explaining that he grew to love street photography because “it doesn’t need to be staged. It’s natural to have to shoot on the go. There’s no pre-planning and I like that kind of style”.
Nazly first thought about doing something with his collection of street photography around Colombo in 2018, but this was not given much thought until 2020 and our first Covid-19 lockdown by which point Nazly has thought of making a book and asked Kris to collaborate with him – with Nazly handling the photographic side of the book and Kris handling the writing side of things. “Initially, we were very unsure of the process and where we were heading,” Nazly said, adding: “But Kris and I have worked together on lots of stories and have a great working relationship from many different projects so we thought why not work on this too.”
Kris, who was also hesitant at the beginning of the process because he’d never written a book before, shared that it took a while to pin down how they would tell the story. “It’s not as simple as you think it would be, documenting an entire city, which is basically what Nazly has done. It’s not something that happens overnight. Colours of Colombo is basically a by-product of the work Nazly has been doing for years, we have photos going back more than seven years.”
Telling the story of Colombo
“Colours of Colombo is basically Colombo’s story from the perspective of two people,” Kris explained, sharing: “You have Nazly’s visual perspective and I managed to give it a narrative. The book more or less starts with ‘how do we tell a story about a city, this city, taking the city as the protagonist of this particular story?’ That’s the main question we answer throughout the book, both through Nazly’s photos and my words on the pages.”
The name Colours of Colombo was one the duo came to after much thinking. “It explains the book in one sentence,” Nazly said, “Colombo always has chaos, but there is beauty even in that chaos if you look at it differently, which is something I have been able to do since I picked up photography – to go past a place and see it differently. From the days I used to post pictures of everyday Colombo on social media, people responded and said they had never noticed or seen it the way I had seen it. The story we’re telling is that Colombo as a city is very beautiful even through its chaos, and the people of Colombo are what gives the city its colour. The narrative we’re taking also tries to portray how the city, and its people, have changed over the years.”
The transformation of the city is one of the biggest parts of the book, and to Kris, is one of the most important chapters, with an attempt made to capture both the physical changes of the city itself, as well as the mental changes of Colombo’s people. Narratively, Kris explained that his approach mixes both personal stories of Colombo citizens as well as removed analysis of Colombo’s development. “Where the book deals with particular aspects of the city, like, say, community relationships with water bodies or sports, the narrative would be more removed, but when talking about certain people, then it is personal stories that come out,” he said.
Sharing more with us about how the narrative of Colours of Colombo gets personal, Nazly shared that one of his favourite chapters in the book is “Faces of Colombo”, a chapter that focuses heavily on portraits of people and their personal stories.
The final product
After working together on the concept of Colours of Colombo for over a year and working out what should go into the book, and how, Colours of Colombo is now ready for the public to devour, and, for the moment, is available online through Amazon with its first print run expected to take place in a few weeks. A big challenge to getting Colours of Colombo published has been our current economic crisis. Nazly and Kris explained that import restrictions and supply chain issues with printers have put a crimp in their plans on getting the book out, which is why, at present, Colours of Colombo is still only available electronically, but this is something they hope to have resolved soon.
Asking, Nazly and Kris, for their favourite part of putting Colours of Colombo, they shared that while design and layout took quite a bit of time, there was a very satisfying moment towards the end of the process where Nazly and Kris printed out all their photos and text and made a physical mockup of the book so they could fine-tune how they wanted the book to look and feel. “It was a very analogue first draft that we did to how it would physically look and feel,” Kris shared, adding: “That feeling I got when I saw the book physically in my hands when I was turning the pages was very interesting.”
“Colours of Colombo” by Nazly Ahmed and Kris Thomas is available for purchase on Amazon. For more information and to enquire about paperback copies, please visit the “Colours of Colombo” website https://colombo.photos