Parting Shot. The Lion.

When I beat around the bush no animals dash out for me to shoot. So, I have learnt over the years, not to beat around it. Out of the bush and in the open, I have stated on various forums that I am ‘The worst wildlife photographer in South Africa’ and beyond. To emphasize this I have even attached a title behind my name. (WWPSA).

That’s why I am totally flabbergasted when I repeatedly get asked to speak at photographic clubs and societies. Pictorially, this is as big a debacle as the Basil van Rooyen incident. Just last year, I was invited to speak at the National Congress of the Photographic Society of South Africa. I mean, come-on —- as if there’s not enough around the country to drive me to Mampoer. Many prominent members of this national society have like honours and fancy titles behind their names. After one member’s surname were the titles, Hon MPSSA, FPSSA(Dux), MFIAP, ESFIAP. I mean, for me its hard enough living with the initials P.C.J in front of my surname. Twice in the past few years I have also been asked to speak at ‘Wild Shots’, a gathering of extremely talented wildlife photographers. The first time I sent them a garbled reply and a video link to the 1966 hit song by The Troggs, called ‘Wild Thing’. (“ Wild thing, you make my heart sing. You make everything groovy, wild thing”). Last week, I finally sobered up and bought myself a Country Life magazine. What a surprise to realize that I lived in a country with so many beautiful places, dorpies, trails, restaurants and farm stalls. What really got me was the incredible wildlife shot in the September 2016 issue by Sarah Moorcroft of a lion chasing a Warthog. A few years ago, working for the New York travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler, I found myself in a totally upmarket lodge in Sabie Sands Game Reserve. On a game drive with only a guide and myself, we came across this male lion that had passed out in the track after eating half a Buffalo. I asked the guide if I could kneel next to the lion and do this best selfie of all selfies. As the game warden said that I should get back in the vehicle, the lion opened one eye to look at me. Now you see why I am a WWPSA.


y9634 – Africa, South Africa, Londolozi. Male lion sleeping on a road after feeding on a buffalo.
– Afrika, Suedafrika, Londolozi. Schlafender Loewe auf einem Weg.
– 01.10 2001.
– 50 MB.
Copyright: Obie Oberholzer / Bilderberg

The Troggs. Wild Thing. 1966.

Near Naudes Nek. Southern Drakensberg. South Africa. 2015

My eyes are floating around in the sky, circling like a hawk over a landscape that tingles me all over like a beautiful song. Every shimmer of light, every blade of grass, every stone on the road amplifies the majesty around me. I am a photographer, a great force grabs my sharpened awareness, yet, I always realise that the light my camera grabs, is a mere fraction of this grandiose vista. In country talk, I am the mere horseshoe in the haystack. Photographs are mere impressions of the real world. The cloudbank that covers those representations cannot be improved, even with the magic of Photoshop. All cameras, even the most expensive, have limitations. Those that have travelled on many roads and have crossed many horizons, will tell you that finding the essence of a scene starts in knowing the camera’s limitations. Pictures are only brief flickers of light, small instantaneous moments on the journey that we call life. Some pictorial enthusiasts perceive life through the viewfinder of a camera. Then, when that journey is over, they return home and view their snippets of life on a flat-screen projection, far from the reality of the moment. I stop my bakkie and climb up a bank. Maybe the hawk in the sky told me to. A Boeing passes overhead, streaking the sky with vapour trail. I squint my eyes into the bright; blinded by a passion to take this, save this, hold this forever. But I know, that this is a moment of the never-ever again time. ‘Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong.” This is the song of so many country roads. It’s the country hit of 1971 by Henry John Deutschendorf, known to all country roaders as John Denver. “Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze”. Then, as life’s luck would have it, a flock of sheared sheep come walking down the road. I take two frames, then dangle my camera away and just watch the light on their backs, the bleating of the mother ewes and the stones rolling under their feet. Then as they came, so they went and above, the Boeing too. Far below the Bell River glides quietly, reflecting the clouds drawn wide across the sky. I stand, holding onto a snippet of life that I just can’t understand, don’t want to understand —–a short moment that will forever pass. “Dark and dusty, painted in the sky, misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye” (John Denver died whilst flying his own plane over Monterey Bay in 1997).


Diesel and Dust.

From most travellers’ perspectives, the word ‘distance’ often links or compliments ‘space’. The greater the distance between two points, the smaller the dot of ‘Self’ becomes and the greater the feeling of freedom. It is often said that a distance travelled is a celebration of one’s own journey of freedom. When one travels far, enormity in distance and the surrounds of space, bring about an enhanced feeling of tranquillity, where the mind can levitate outside of the physical self. Embracing the jubilation of freedom is not so much about getting to a destined point, but rather passing through the enthrallment of motion, of moving and travelling, be it driving, walking, running or cycling. I guess that it’s in the human psyche, a need to know what lies at infinity, what’s at a point far yonder, the ultimate point of purpose, somewhere over the horizon? It’s a quest for some of the mysteries to life itself. As a photographer I travel along a wayward road rather to sketch the journey that to search for the answer at the end. For indeed, the greatest treasures sometimes lie on the smallest roads.. So this is not a parting shot, it’s much more of a distance shot. I stop my bakkie, exactly here, on the Namibian road D1998— at 23°14’ 13.31” South and 15° 35’ 13.78” East, facing exactly north. A slow 180° spin around, encompasses hundreds of square kilometres as my eyes feed in information too grandiose for the mind to perceive. It is so wide and wondrous that I am lifted by the sky. My minuteness in space is a celebration of life and the rejuvenation of all my senses. This place is so quiet it is almost loud. It is so far away that all the hugeness around me cuddles me in closeness. I can touch the spiritual. I am just the diesel and the dust, a mere humbled observer on a dusty track through space. Heaven on earth is a long gravel road. Slowly, I turn the circle again, running my eyes along the horizon’s pale brown-blue lines. My continent’s dust lies in my pores; its diesel fuels my visual songs and somewhere over the horizon, tonight’s fire beneath a starry sky, is worth a thousand pictures.

The C14 Road aout 60 kilometers west of Walvis Bay in a direction to Kuiseb Point. Namib-Naukluft Park.

There’s a crack in everything.

Through each one of us, life drifts with ebbs and flows, coasts along, sometimes falters, walks or jogs over long plateaus, passing bumpy hills and corrugations, occasionally coming upon a shimmering scene. Some of these, become— unforgettable moments, that always remain pinned inside our hearts. Stuck there to be hugged again in times of trouble. Let’s just call them starbursts of light. I have a few of them stuck deep inside me. When travelling from the Cape to Cairo in 1994, I managed to slip into Eritrea between two wars, the Eritrean War of Independence (1961-1991) and the Ethiopian-Eritrean War. (1998 -2000) One afternoon, lying on my bed in a totally dark room in the coastal city of Massawa, I noticed that a single bullet hole through the wood panelling projected the street scene outside to an inverted, albeit dimmer image across the back wall of the room. It was a moment of pure eureka-joy, the pin-hole camera showing the magic of physics and all that I have followed, my life long —- the capturing of objects and their reflected light on film and now electronic pixels. Then, some 24 years ago, this upside down scene, or inverted light, projected a sequel of camels and people walking along a market street in Massawa. It still feels like yesterday. I can see it, right in front of me, when I close my eyes. Glory be —-forever —- to all of this planet’s light! The sun’s electromagnetic radiation makes living possible, continuously, all the time, everywhere. Turn it off and we will all succumb to frozen darkness. Here then, is just a small celebration and homage to light and the life it sustains. In a darkened room in Geluksburg, a head torch, halogen spots in the ceiling and an LED torch squeeze light of different wavelengths of colour, through the gap in a door. As Leonard Cohen, my favourite singer-songwriter of all time sang: ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’

Running shoes with bathroom light. Photographed in a B&B in Maramures County of Romania.


The Granite Koppie

There’s just no point in beating around the koppie. The word koppie is about as Sauff-êfrikan as a braai and a bossie. A Kopbossean is an older countryman whose head still turns to seek out those mean communists that were hiding behind the bossies during the early days of the previous regime. Somewhere around the late 1980’s, driving a Kombi-Syncro sponsored by Volkswagen, I find myself near Springbok surrounded by large rounded koppies. At a nearby farm, I walk up to the farmer with a windgat swagger and swoon —- “Jjrrrr’, but you’ve got lekker koppies, ek sê. Could I drive to the top of the highest one?” He contemplates here and there, you know, like wizened old farmers do. Then he lights his pipe, you know, like farmers do after there’s been rain on the veld. “Go and sleep up there —- it’s Godly beautiful on the top when evening comes. And here, Boet —- take some hardwood along for a fire”. Arriving at the base of the rounded granite colossus — my windgatheid (No appropriate English word) had all but evaporated, leaving just a little bit of daredevil stupidity. Actually and honestly, not to beat around the koppie, I was scared starkers when I looked up the slope. I once saw a 4×4 program where these okes drive up these steep gradients. JJrrrr. Anything over 45° is considered crazy. When I finally reached the top I had to winch up my heart that was still pounding halfway down the slope. Late afternoon spread into the most spectacular twilight and sunset imaginable. Soon, a beauty of a fire was aflame, sending sparks spiralling towards the stars that twinkled all over the heavens. If this was now I would have done a selfie, but it was back then, so I didn’t. I unpacked my camping table, chair and a gourmet selection of food and wine to toast the spectacular scene. You know —– man alone on the top of a mountain stuff. Then, at around 10:30pm, there was this God almighty, horrific explosion. Glasses, plates, chair and a table tumbled down the koppie, the Syncro rocked on its wheels and my mind disintegrated as shock waves rumbled out over the distance. So what-what-what-what happened??!!. “Oh gatta —-“ said the farmer the following morning. “ The granite cooled with the evening, then was unevenly heated by your fire, till it exploded —– Boooooom”. Then he lit his pipe and smirked, you know, like farmers do when the sheep are all fat after the spring rains.