Lakshan Dharmapriya documents off-season huskies to critique capitalism and champion rest
Thoughtful and intricate, the London-based photographer’s series demonstrates how intertwined humans and the natural world really are – whether we choose to recognise it or not.
- Olivia Hingley
- 30 March 2023
“It began when thinking about the necessity of time off, rest, respite, whatever word you want to use for it,” Lakshan Dharmapriya says of his series Off Season. “In a society that is built around the necessity for continuous progress, our innate relationship with the sustainable essence of nature is slowly deteriorating.” It was these musings that led Lakshan to explore the relationship between humans and the natural world, and how “humans, western society in particular, live as if we have transcended the systems of nature”. Soon, Lakshan found himself toying with the idea of depicting off season huskies, a working animal that provides an “intriguing intersection between ordered human society and the wild systems of nature”.
While sled dogs are largely seen as relentlessly working, Lakshan explains that, due to natural weather cycles, they in fact have a large period of rest during the summer months – this is due to factors like the risk of overheating. It’s only in the winter, when they’ve grown their thick coats that they begin to work. Lakshan travelled to a Norwegian sled dog yard where he lived – primarily alone – for three months, living, working and photographing the dogs and their surroundings, while also “resting, and therefore living within the project”, Lakshan adds.
Nature has been a primary influence of Lakshan’s from as early as he can remember. Born in Manchester, the photographer recalls regularly drawing birds, pestering his parents for a disposable camera before every school camp, and going to Lyme Park to photograph its red deer. “Since then I’ve always been making images and using photography as a means of interacting and understanding my surroundings,” Lakshan says. At age 11, he moved with his family to Australia, later studying for a BA in Industrial Design at Monash University in Melbourne. In 2022, Lakshan returned to the UK to complete a masters in photojournalism and documentary photography at UAL.
One of Lakshan’s central intentions for the series was “not to inform, but to immerse”, thus deviating away from traditional documentary photography approaches. Lakshan always wanted the images to “mimic human vision” and so he solely used a 50mm lens. Through the varied beauty of landscapes, Lakshan was also able to attend to one of his biggest visual fascinations – colour. A way of communicating northern Norway’s seasonal transitions, Lakshan bookends the project with “the exact same composition photographed in the green of summer and then the burnt oranges of autumn”.
In the main, the photographer depicts the “minutiae” of the dogs’ lives and their ways of coexisting. In one image, two puppies are shown in the midst of a play fight, their open jaws simultaneously captured pre-bite. This is a shot that particularly resonates with Lakshan, not only for its striking visuals – compositionally it has similarities to Micheal Angelo’s Creation of Adam – but for the way it encapsulates the series. “Unconcerned by the trials of winter which will soon come, they allow themselves to truly live within the moment,” Lakshan says. “They play, cry and fight with the same intensity that they work.”
The series doesdeviate away from the dogs however, a change of focus Lakshan uses to demonstrate “the fact that they exist within an environment, a system”. One picture shows an empty hut standing in the midst of a near desolate landscape, void of humans but with clear signs of habitation – electric wires, stools and curtains. Through this image, Lakshan subtly “tethers the human” into the landscape; he explains the hut belongs to Mikkel, a man who intermittently lives there alone, and grew up herding reindeer with his father.
On reflection, Lakshan sees Off Season as a series of many layers. At first glance, he says, it may appear “simply an insight into the lives of sled dogs at a time of year that we usually aren’t looking”, but with a second look it becomes “a celebration of rest and renewal, reverence for nature’s ability to ebb and flow”. Dig even deeper, however, and you’ll find yourself immersed within an “ode to moments of stillness within the thunderous uproar of progress, a peaceful disruption to the incessant needs of capitalism”.
GalleryLakshan Dharmapriya: Off Season (Copyright © Lakshan Dharmapriya, 2022)
Lakshan Dharmapriya: Off Season (Copyright © Lakshan Dharmapriya, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.