We had the good fortune of connecting with Yasara Gunawardena and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Yasara, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles — specifically the San Fernando Valley. My parents immigrated from Sri Lanka and helped keep that part of my culture very much alive when raising me. We had playgroups with our family friends, played traditional drums and went to Kandyan dance classes, and saw my aunts and uncles frequently. My mother made sure to try and keep as much of a balance between the American and Sri Lankan parts of our life — she packed us what we considered more “traditional” American lunches to school (sandwiches and the like) and we would feast on rice and curries for dinner when we got home.

My background and upbringing are the thing that has shaped me as a person the most. All of my values are rooted in that culture and the lessons my parents taught my brother and myself. We are taught to respect others and help when and where we can. I always want to make sure the person I am with is feeling comfortable and happy. I feel as though this is incredibly important in both social and work scenarios. Growing up it was not a good or cool thing to be Asian, but I am so lucky and grateful that my parents created a space and allowed me into a community of people who looked and acted like me, and let us dance the line between Sri Lankan and American. I will always wish I had even deeper roots in my Sri Lankan culture but am so grateful for what I have had all along.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I love being able to insert a little bit of fun, play, and personality into my work. I feel like so often things seem as if they need to be rigid and traditional, very set in their ways. In an ideal world, the work I am making is fun. I want to create things that don’t feel as though they need to be taken so seriously, and can be loose and have room to move around. I sometimes feel naive in my goals to simply “have fun” with my work and will definitely see what challenges I face in the future or if I find it more difficult than anticipated. Thus far I feel pretty confident in saying that the projects I have worked ARE fun and make me feel good. I want people to hire me because they want to feel confident that the job will get done, the images will have something to say, and that everyone involved will have a good time!

Starting off as an assistant and transitioning into a photographer has been a great time of reflection for me. I’m lucky to have been told by my peers and clients alike that they can trust me to help keep the mood positive at work and have a peppy (but not too peppy!) mindset. I think it’s important to be that person when there are so many other stressful factors at play. I think we can get so wrapped up in so many external stressors, and it’s nice to try and create and feel good about it at the same time.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Ack! So many good food options! I know we said in the city, but just for fun I want to throw out a day trip to Pismo Beach just for the clam chowder from Splash Cafe. Three hour drive… so worth it. Grab to go and enjoy on the beach!! I am quite food obsessed and have hundreds of google pins saved of pretty much any restaurant I’ve heard someone mention, so I would have a lot of options to offer. One of my more recent favorite hangs is picking up some food either from Town Pizza or Joy in Highland Park, and driving a few minutes away to what my friends call “Sunset Spot” (merely the top of a local hike) and having dinner and enjoying the view from there. For some scrumptious cocktails I am easily pleased with what Cafe Birdie has to offer. I am very, VERY, slowly learning about the parks around me, and having been loving a mixture of picking up food from nearby and bringing my own snacks to share with some buds. Lacy Park in San Marino offers tons of beautiful shade and views. Leo Carrillo State Park is a beach I grew up going to but haven’t revisited in years. I think it would be a ton of fun to pick up some sandwiches from Cavaretta’s Italian Deli in the Valley and drive over to Leo Carrillo for a beach day too.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My parents — Amal Pelawatta and Upul Gunawardena. I am so lucky that both of them always supported my desire to become a photographer from a very young age. Photography was my dads hobby and he is really who started me down this path. My mom has always given me such freedom within her love and guidance she showers me in.

Website: itsyasara.com

Instagram: @itsyasara

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