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.
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.
Last week we were staying in Nieu Bethesda and I realised that one of the important things about the Karoo is the shape and texture of the small things we experience. I’ve already posted pictures of big skies and clouds or rain storms and sunsets in the Karoo. Yet the Karoo is also in the shape of a twist of fence wire, a pink vygie, the Bushman poison bulb (Boophone distichia), a bee entering a sneeze wood post or an inverted padlock.
So here’s a selection of just those things – and a few more.
We were back at Ganora Farm last week updating our research in the Karoo and came across this strange creature. We had taken a short walk above the cottages to get some cellphone signal and stretch our legs after a morning of desk top work and came across a pair of oddly matched eyes peering up out of the grass. I thought ‘he is an owl’ but Kate took one look at the photo and said ‘looks more like a frog’. So let’s settle on a frowl.
Last week we spent four days in the Karoo. As usual we were based at Ganora Farm, which is near Nieu-Bethesda, doing some mapping work and interviewing farmers who kindly gave us their rainfall records. At this time of year the light can be spectacular, especially in the early evenings when there are summer storms passing by. The air gets scrubbed clean by the rain and wind leaving a sparkling landscape. It is also high, at around 1500 metres, which also adds to the translucent skies. These pictures are mostly in black and white though the filter I used on my Pentax K-5 leaves red shades in the images. That’s easy to see in one of the pictures. The landscape is dominated by wide open spaces, clouds, and Kompassberg mountain which towers dramatically 1000 metres above you.