Meet Ruvan Wijesooriya: a photographer whose unique way of capturing color, light and nature combined with his documentary work, has kept us captivated for years.
His documentation of New York’s life over the past 9 months has truly represented the city and offered a reassuring image for New Yorkers themselves. For the rest of us, it has been an insightful report on what’s been going on in the community on a deeply human level.
In a year where face masks have become a new constant, limiting or nearly erasing our human expressions, Ruvan and Happy Socks wanted to explore what’s hiding underneath them. With the design of our face masks we’ve aimed to allow people to bring forth their personality and express themselves despite hiding half of their faces. Our hope is to spark a sense of joy and perseverance during this tough moment in time.
The project took place at Union Square, on November 6th – in the midst of the US presidential election. Watch the trailer below & the whole film here!
WE TALKED TO RUVAN TO GIVE YOU A DEEPER INSIGHT INTO HIS CREATIVE PROCESS DURING THIS UNIQUE MOMENT IN TIME.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN QUITE A CRAZY TIME TO BE OUT THERE! COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE VIBES IN THE STREETS AND THE CONVERSATIONS YOU HAD WITH THE PEOPLE YOU PHOTOGRAPHED?
It was the day before the US election results! I kept the conversation about masks since there was definitely anxiety about the election. Many people mentioned that when they socialize with someone wearing a mask, that person is not easily recognized when the mask is taken off. Sometimes people are becoming more recognizable with the mask, than without it! It is the opposite of “normal.” It was fun for everyone to interact and take off their masks for the camera.
HOW DID THIS SPECIAL DATE INFLUENCE THE OUTCOME OF THE PROJECT?
The weather was perfect on November 6th. Inviting people into the street studio at Union Square allowed people to disengage from their everyday life and interact safely, to express themselves and laugh a little. I wanted to shoot before the election results because it was such an emotional time for NYC. I knew if Trump had won, it would be difficult to get people to smile.
YOU ARE KNOWN FOR YOUR AMAZING EYE FOR CAPTURING THE ESSENCE OF YOUR SUBJECTS AND THEIR SURROUNDINGS. HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE FACE MASKS HAVE AFFECTED HOW PEOPLE EXPRESS THEMSELVES?
Some people embrace the feeling of being anonymous and others feel stifled. I think it has made life difficult for people who are single and dating! It is impossible to know what anyone looks like and often it is difficult to hear what the person in a mask is saying. But the mask is also a fashion accessory used to help elevate outfits and express individuality. It seems like people feel more removed with a mask on.
HOW HAS THE PAST 9 MONTHS CHANGED THE WAY YOU SEE YOUR CITY?
Honestly, I had no idea people cared so much about NYC. While I knew that Black and Brown communities dealt with police violence, the past 9 months have shown the rest of the city the kind of violence they are dealing with. I see my city as resilient.
How would you describe the spirit in New York CIty at the moment?
Positive, optimistic, within a metamorphosis, rebuilding and finding an understanding of “community.” There is a Primary Election in June next month filled with some of the most unexpected political candidates. There is a massive effort to get this crew of candidates into office, which is something that is new for NYC.
HOW HAS THE PAST 9 MONTHS CHANGED YOUR WORK? BOTH THE PRACTICAL ASPECTS AND ITS CONCEPTUAL SIDE?
I think I have more purpose and focus than I did before.
Before the pandemic I was working on experiential exhibitions about things like rainbows and galactic phenomena – soulful, beautiful and outside of time and space. I was brought right back into reality when I shot the first protests. The magazine I was on assignment for felt the photos were too sensitive and did not publish them. I became a photographer for the people documenting the young protest groups roaming around Brooklyn. The workflow reminded me of when I was in my 20’s working for bands.
I’m just now starting to get back to the rainbows and stars.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANY ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHERS OUT THERE, ESPECIALLY AT THE MOMENT?
Tell stories nobody else is telling and tell the stories that you have special access to.
WHAT IS THE ONE THING THAT, WITHOUT FAIL, ALWAYS MAKES YOU HAPPY THESE DAYS?
Dancing in the streets always makes me happy. In the last year there has been little else to do.
As a continuation of the project, Ruvan created a short film and an exhibition entitled ‘’Joy Became the Resistance’’. He dives even deeper into the reality of Covid-19, the protests, police riots and highlights the community’s resilience and response to the city’s crisis in policing.
‘’Joy Became the Resistance’’ is a must-see for anyone who cares about New York City and wants to understand more about what has been happening on its streets. Watch here!
And if you are in New York, visit the exhibition in Happy Socks’ store at 863 Broadway, Union Square, from May 12th.