Two or three times a year we make the journey west from Grahamstown and into the Karoo – often staying somewhere around Compassberg which at 2504 metres is the highest peak in the Sneeuberg and Karoo. Kate has been working in the area for many years and I’ve gone along too. Sometimes that’s involved some academic work but more often I take my camera out and about. For me as a photographer the Karoo is really grainy: there’s gravel roads, flatlands, thorn scrub on rock outcrops, flat sedimentary ledges in front of rugged mountains, dolerite columns and twisting sandy rivers. All of this under a huge sky with dramatic light – especially when there’s rain (and snow) about.
This slideshow features some of my favourite themes, sunsets, storms and night skies.
Karoo Windpump, Beaufort West
Karoo Obelisk and Milky Way
Passing Storm, Beaufort West
After the Storm, Karoo National Park
Karoo Sunset, Compassberg
The road to Compassberg
There’s a picture of an iconic Karoo wind pump under a stormy sky. The Obelisk below the Milky Way is at Ganora Guest Farm (it marks the sharp turnoff to their self catering cottage). The Karoo Sunset was actually taken from Hogsback, which isn’t in the Karoo, but I was looking due west at the sun setting beyond range after range of Karoo hills. The two Passing Storm pictures were taken approaching (and from within) the Karoo National Park one dramatic afternoon. The last two pictures are of sunsets at Compassberg and the Sneeuberg north of Nieu Bethesda.
I’ve put The Karoo Windpump and The Road to Compassberg in my online store where you can also find plenty of other landscape pictures and my latest exhibition – Metamorphosis.
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.
Without doubt the Karoo is cold in the winter months. We are just back from field work based at Ganora Guest Farm, New Bethesda and it was gray and cloudy and cold. I managed to capture the grainy chill in these pictures: particularly in the skies towering over the gravel roads twisting through the big landscapes. We’ve usually finished field work before sunset and so I get the chance for a quiet walk and the opportunity to compose some photos – hopefully beside some sheltered sun-warmed rocks.
Then there’s also the small things that you see when walking through the countryside. The donkeys, pumpkins at a road side farm stall, freshly shorn sheep smelling of lanolin and there were some orange-red blossoms like flame flickering amongst the rocks.
At night the sky sweeps above you and the stars are incredible. This picture of the milky way was taken when it was hazy and cloudy so I was lucky to get the picture when there was a break in the clouds. The farm buildings in the next picture are very bright because a guest’s car drove down to the farm whilst I was exposing the shot. So the farm was light painted for me. There’s a straight diagonal line running across the curved star trails in the last picture. It’s the lights of the SAA flight from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.
It’s a couple of months since I posted about the book project. There’s been plenty to work on: finding the right online publisher, deciding on the layout, selecting and reworking images, tracking down picture details, drawing the maps and then composing the book. Here is a preview of the covers: you are looking at the book opened out and face down so the back cover is to the left of the spine.
After a bit of research I chose blurb to work with as they publish a lot of photo books and their BookSmart software is free. They also give the option to convert your book into an eBook for publication in Apple’s iBook store. Which is something I will be doing very shortly. My book has a large square format since the images don’t come in standard sizes.. That’s meant laying out each page separately with an image and the original picture I worked from plus a short caption. Here are two pairs of pages from the Mosses and Lichens and Trees sections.
I realised that I am not the first person to construct striking and evocative imagery through mirroring and duplicating. What I have done in the book, though, is to add value to the pictures so that it is much more than just a set of lovely and intriguing images. The book is divided into seven sections depending on the aspect of nature involved. Then I have added a brief description for each picture and included one or two small photographs of people and places. Here is a two page spread from the Leaves section.
At the end of the book I composed two pages of typical South African and Swedish landscapes so that the reader gets a better appreciation of the places where the pictures were taken. Each page has a location map, list of where the pictures were taken, a panorama and four typical landscapes.
The book ends with a page showing how I constructed the images and there’s a complete listing of the technical details of all of the photographs. It’ll be 54 pages in all. I am just waiting for ISBN numbers to be issued for the hard copy and eBook then it’ll be uploaded and published!
Last week we spent a productive few days doing survey work in and around the Wilgerbos River on Ganora Farm. Kate’s Masters student, Natalie, and postdoctoral researcher, Simon, were busy with channel surveys, flow measurements and laying sediment trips. I helped Kate with her erosion study on the badlands. Some of these pictures have already been posted on Facebook as black-and-whites but here they are in colour. Starting with Kate on the badlands site up above the road to the farm.
Here are Natalie and Brendan surveying the channel at her middle site in the river gorge.
And lastly another picture with someone in the river, this time it’s Simon, and Chabala with Natalie.
It’s been a while since I have had the time and space for posting anything here. We’re just back from Ganora Farm in the Karoo: it was Kate’s first field trip since her colon cancer operation and chemotherapy started six months ago.
Everyone who visits the Karoo has a wind pump picture but I thought I would climb up one to see if I could get something a little different. I’d had a drink from the sparkling groundwater coming out of the pipe and then scrambled up the ladder to just below the spinning vanes. Hanging on one-handed whilst taking pictures was a bit tricky but when one of the farm workers appeared to fill his water bottle I was rewarded with this picture.