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.
There’s a nice selection of my Grahamstown pictures over at my online portal roddythefox.co.za. 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.
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.