We were away in Niagara-on-the-Lake this weekend, Rob and I (actually, Sunday and Monday) – a little getaway to mark the fact, of no global importance but important to the two of us, that it was 10 years to the day, yesterday, that we first met, in a swanky Afro-themed bar in Sandton City, Johannesburg. The relationship almost didn’t happen – but it did, and here we are, a decade later, two married old fogeys living in Toronto, to prove it. Who woulda thought, eh? I don’t have many photos – we were too busy with other things – but instead of Niagara here is a photo of some springbok, heading up from the salt pan in Etosha. Don’t ask where’s the logic – there isn’t any. I just wanted to share it.
I have been experimenting, in B&W, with some of the images I took after dark, in Etosha, hoping to suggest something of the elusiveness, silence, otherness you sense when creatures materialise out of the shadows, and go about their business, before melting back into the darkness again. All of this is work towards an ‘at home’ that Rob and I are planning for the fall, when we will hold an open-house event to show some of my pictures, along with some of the artefacts we brought back with us from our trip in April to South Africa and Namibia: for those who are interested, there will be items for purchase. More importantly, however, there will be wine, and snacks, and an opportunity just to say hi, to reconnect, to chat and relax and enjoy the last of the late summer. Here are what I think are the two strongest night images, so far.
We are off to Detroit in the morning, to spend the weekend with my favourite sister-in-law – Cindy to her friends, but Cynthia to her sister. I thought – considering where we are going – I should leave you with a photo, as I will most likely be maintaining radio silence until we are back home after the weekend. No, it’s not Trump – it’s about as good-looking, but it’s a helluva lot smarter. It’s a rhino, heading down to the waterhole at Halali in Etosha, Namibia, for an after-dark rumble. Which about fits the bill, doesn’t it?
From Etosha we drove to Otjiwarongo, where – with some misadventure, i.e. the theft of cameras, iPad, cellphones, but fortunately not the Nikon, or our passports (!) – we spent the night. Next morning, somewhat disillusioned with the place, we went on to Ugab, where we stayed at the fabulous Ugab Terrace Lodge. Fabulous for its views, that is, its accommodation, and its extraordinary location, atop a narrow ridge reached by a death-defying climb up a track that in the last stretch seems to point vertically into the skies. Everything good, except for the food, which was merely decent, though miles – aeons – better than the crap we were fed at Namibia Wildlife Resorts. Needless to say, after several days in which food was simply sustenance at best, we tucked in with gusto. Here, to ease the transition to the next stage of our journey, are a last few photos from Etosha, and two landscapes from Ugab. The bird in
Here is a photo of the Okaukuejo waterhole, at daybreak: this one’s in colour, to try to capture that crisp, sharp, brilliant light of the early morning. And a photo of springbok. You’ll notice that the nearer animals are blurry, with the point of focus somewhere there in the middle. It’s an odd effect, and I’m not sure that it works, but I kind of like it anyway because it gives, to my mind at least, the impression of a sea, a wave of springbok sweeping across the veld, which is what it was like, really. See what you think.
Following some comments I’ve received, I thought a note might be in order, on the aesthetic behind the black & white Etosha landscapes I posted last week. In deciding how to process and frame the images, I was very conscious of not wanting to produce the ‘Wuthering Heights’ effect, or even the Ansel Adams – I wanted to avoid the tropes of nature’s grandeur, its wildness, ruggedness, ‘otherness’ etcetera. When you look at the landscape in Etosha, especially around the Salt Pan, where we were, there’s nothing there. That’s the whole point, really. You really have to look to see it. And that’s what I wanted these pictures to show. You know which photographs I mean, right? Its the series that includes this one.
The viewing site at Etosha’s Halali camp is built into a rocky crag, with the cliff at your back and the Moringa waterhole below. You look down upon an arena, or theatre, with the evening sun in your eyes, until the light begins to fade and the orange glow of the floodlights comes on. Trundling down the path to our left, out of the bushes, or wings if you like, came the first of our first evening’s protagonists – a large black rhinoceros. He proceeded straight to the pool, dipped his head to drink, and took a few steps into the water. Stepped out again, circled, entered again stage right, this time up to his belly. What a treat, we thought – to the whirring of shutters as the small group of us baking on the exposed rock fired away with our cameras. And then, out of the bushes, centre, emerged a second black rhino. Marched down to the water, put in a foot, waded
A lot of our viewing in Etosha was at the waterholes, where we would sit in the car and wait and watch, and watch and wait. Sometimes we would see stuff, and sometimes we wouldn’t. On the open plains, too, we would drive and drive and see very little, and then we would come across vast herds of springbok, or zebra, or wildebeest, or oryx, whose sheer numbers would overpower the eye – I will include a few photos later, to see if I can give you a sense of the sheer scale of things. At one waterhole, we were watching a few antelope and zebra when out of the bushes to our right, in the distance, a herd of elephants emerged – and man, were they in a hurry! They headed straight for the waterhole and splashed right through it, with barely a pause, and marched on smartly into the bushes to our left. Something must have spooked them, because we barely
From the black rhino that paddled in the waterhole one night at Okaukuejo, to the hulking, huge bull elephant who loomed out of the bushes near where we were parked and scared the bejesus out of us, here are a few more Etosha images.
Day One in Etosha ended as it had begun, back at the Okaukuejo camp. The camps in the park, run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts, were comfortable and clean, though not always well maintained, and the staff, I regret to say, were for the most part graduates of the Soviet school of hospitality – surly, unhelpful, unresponsive. The food was pretty dreadful, and expensive. The best bet, we discovered, was to get a burger for lunch at the cafeteria, and avoid the dinner buffets altogether. The waterhole at Okaukuejo, famed in the guide books for its ‘teeming’ animals, was mostly deserted. We sat up late and got up early, waiting with tripod and cameras and binoculars for that magical sighting, and were lucky enough to see two male lions appear after dark, the one night, to drink, and then – quite literally – melt away into the darkness. We saw a rhino, too, splashing about in the waterhole after dark, black-backed
You know how it is, I have work to do – so here are a couple more photos taken along the road to Okondeka. When it comes to procrastination, I am a master…
The road to Okondeka runs west from the Okaukuejo camp, the main rest camp in Namibia’s fabulous Etosha wildlife reserve. You head out across open plains, waving with grasses, and then the salt pan comes into view on your right, a silver, lunar sea that runs to the horizon. A haze of heat and dust hangs in the air, fine, like powder. We watch for a while as a black-backed jackal skirmishes with a pair of vultures at a carcase; further on, a long line of zebra, preceded by wildebeest, crests a low hill and winds towards us. It is pretty much true to say that over that first morning, and the days that followed, almost all sense of time vanished: the vast expanse swallows you up, and your everyday human concerns and anxieties with it. In that sense, Etosha is a spiritual as much as a tourist experience. Which is a good thing as the latter – aka Namibia Wildlife Resorts – is