It’s an unusual place – Grahamstown – located in a basin at the headwaters of the Kowie river. The poor black population in the eastern townships look across to the middle class suburbs on the other side of the valley. There are not many South African cities where black and white are so closely juxtaposed. I live in Sunnyside, on the south side of town, and our house is quite high up on the side of a hill. A lot of my pictures look down into the valley. I’m frequently photographing into the light too. The cathedral is nearby – further down Hill Street – with the northern suburbs lying beyond. Makana’s Kop is another Grahamstown landmark. It dominates the eastern side of town – across the Belmont Valley.
I wanted a set of black and white pictures so I needed to capture textures and shapes. South African townships are typically laid out on rectangular lines. This makes for clear compositions. The two pictures here were both taken in winter with low angled light. Before dawn Vukani was wreathed in mist and smoke. I managed to catch the first rays of sunlight cutting across the mists. Monument to Makana was taken just after a storm had passed at sunset. Highlights of rain outline the regular street patterns. The 1820 Settlers Monument is the large rectangular building that lies in the foreground of the picture.
Monument to Makana
In summer we are likely to get thunderstorms – but many of them drift eastwards past the town. From the stoep of our house you can see them over the horizon – behind the spire of the Dutch Reformed Church. Of course some of them do hit the town bringing heavy rain and dramatic lightning.
Off to the north west is the Rhodes University campus. It’s surrounded by tree lined streets. Some exotic monkey puzzle trees are in the foreground of this picture. Belmont Valley lies to the south east. It’s where the Kowie River runs down to the sea. The leafy suburbs shown here are above and below Hill Street. They are beside the old road down to Port Alfred.
The last two pictures are also taken from the south side of town. They’re higher up – on Mountain Drive – where we take our dog walking. Both of them are looking right over the bowl containing the old districts of Grahamstown. The townships have now spread right up Lavender Valley and out on to the plateau at Hooggenoeg. The mountains on the skyline are the Amatolas. The last picture is looking north-west – into the semi-arid Karoo. It shows the Winterberg range that is approximately 80 kms away.
Contact me at email@example.com if you’d like to purchase any of these images. They’re reasonably priced. All of the pictures were taken with my Olympus OMD EM5 MarkII. I’ve edited them in Lightroom using the Nik collection of plugins.
We’ve been having lovely autumn weather with clear air, blue skies and low angle light that brings out all the changing colours. I’ve tried to capture this in these images and combined them into one pattern of autumn harmony.
Going clockwise from the top right the inspiration was a bare tree in front of the after sunset glow. At bottom right is a red leaf in a sea of green foliage. The bottom left picture is a flower in the bracken and the top left is the bark of a birch tree. Here’s how the bare tree looked.
Bare Tree and Belt of Venus
And here’s a detail of how it looked after combining and overlaying the image eight times.
Autumn Harmony detail
I’m often asked if my images are for sale and the answer is yes. I’m exhibiting again on the fringe of the National Arts Festival at the Johan Carinus Art Centre, Grahamstown from 29 June to 9 July. If you’d like to purchase one of these, for example, then just email me using this contact me link and I’ll provide a quote. Cost for a high resolution 50cm width print of Autumn Harmonies will be approximately R1000 including packaging and courier to South African destinations. I have also organised having prints made and delivered overseas.
In a couple of month’s time Grahamstown’s Festival Gallery hosts its annual end-of.year exhibition. This year the theme is Summer in Miniatures – artworks have to be no bigger than 30 cms. I’ve decided to try out a submission with the idea of ‘Summer Nights’ and use a selection of four night pictures taken this past southern hemisphere summer.
The first two were taken on Ganora Farm which is just outside Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo. Summer Nights 1: Angel and Obelisk was taken in the middle of the night when there was no moon. I wanted to catch the Milky Way stretching directly above the rock and quite by chance I caught the light of my head torch that I was using to light-paint the top of the obelisk. Summer Nights 2: Compassberg Star Trails was taken on a night when the moon was full which is why the landscape is so bright. It’s a one hour exposure looking north to Compassberg mountain and has beautiful star trails arcing across the horizon.
Summer Nights 1: Angel and Obelisk
Summer Nights 2: Compassberg Star Trails
Summer Nights 3: Firefly and Star Trails
Summer Nights 4: Pride Rock Star Trails
Summer Nights 3 and 4 were both taken looking south from Mountain Drive, Grahamstown: so they are overlooking Featherstone Kloof. In Summer Nights 3 I was joined by a firefly that flickered briefly past my right shoulder and up into the sky. It’s another picture taken when the moon was full so I hid beneath a rock overhang to avoid getting direct moonlight on the lens. For the last picture, Summer Nights 4, I highlighted Pride Rock from underneath with a bright LED as there was no moonlight to bring out the foreground. The lights on the horizon are from Port Alfred 60 kms away.
If they’re accepted for the exhibition they’ll be priced at around R2500 for a framed print but I can supply a high resolution digital image for half of that. Contact me if you are interested.
Images taken at low light have always been one of my passions but lately I have been able to take much better images at night. A new camera and lens have helped! So I’ve been taking milky way pictures and star trails – quite a few have been posted in Instagram using my @roddythefox account. A few nights ago I was taking some star pictures in the garden below our house and I swung the camera down and round to capture the vegetation. Here’s the picture I got – I was blown over by the glossy aspect of the leaves, the jungly shapes, the amazing violet-pink sky and the interesting composition.
I saw straight away there were lots of possibilities in the shapes to make some special images. So I enhanced the picture’s contrast, cropped out most of the right hand side and then mirrored it horizontally and vertically to get this dramatic image.
I’m pretty sure I will be using it for Portals. It’s such a great fusion of night imagery with mirroring to find a stunning pattern. I could see, though, that there’s the possibility of another great pattern using the almost vertical leaves on the left hand side of the original. This time I’ve duplicated it many times to arrive at a fantasy wallpaper/wrapping paper design.
One of the unusual things about taking the portals pictures is that I am often looking for an image to complete. So I look for quirky shapes that can be combined into something intriguing, different and provocative. Fortunately for me there are plenty of trees in and around Grahamstown with strange forms which provide me with great material – especially at sunset when the light is changing rapidly.
There’s a hook at the top of the trunk of this leaning tree, with slanted bands of clouds behind. When I cropped through the hooked tree and copied, flipped and joined I got the following two images.
The shapes of the clouds now focus your eyes on the strange silhouette in the centre of the image. One of these will go into the Portals Exhibition but I haven’t been able to make my mind up which it will be.
I’ve been out from home to take night pictures around Grahamstown three times recently when the cloud (preferably no clouds) and wind (preferably no wind or light winds) forecasts were favourable. The moon isn’t such a problem as you can use the moonlight to paint the foreground of your picture. Night photos have been a dominant theme for me lately. I’ve had great results with the fantastic ‘live composition’ option on my new Olympus and I bought an expensive wide angle lens to catch as much light as possible.
The first picture’s taken looking down the Belmont Valley from the hillside below PJ Olivier School. I had to hide the lights of Grahamstown behind the burned out tree stump and rocks but that gives a nice dramatic composition. There was no moon but plenty of artificial light so I used a short two second exposure and took a live composition for 50 minutes. So the picture is actually 1500 images combined.
Belmont Valley Star Trails
The second picture’s from just below the high point of the Oldenburgia Trail – where is goes over Dassie Krantz – south of Grahamstown. This time the moon was full and I positioned myself so the moon, and lights of Grahamstown, were behind me – on the other side of Mountain Drive. The camera settings are almost the same as the first picture. You can see the ribbon of car lights snaking along the N2 and the dotted lines of the two light aircraft flying along the coast. There’s also a meteor – the thin diagonal flash in the centre-left of the picture (in the middle of the Milky Way). The sky’s blue because there’s much less artificial light.
Oldenburgia Trail Stars
The last picture was taken a week later and only a few metres further down the Oldenburgia Trail. This time I’ve pointed the camera south-east, looking down Featherstone Kloof, as the moon was just rising behind the crags to the left. There are a lot more stars and a brighter sky because this composite is one-hour of five second exposures and the camera’s sensor picks up light from the fainter stars. You can make out the glow of street lights from Bathurst and Port Alfred on the Indian Ocean coast 60 kilometres away.