Parting Shots

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.

https://youtu.be/YlLspwQaKqQ

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.

Dot.

My name is Dot and I live on Mr. Wilson’s dairy farm on the lush plateau above Natures Valley. Well, actually I have two plastic name clips on my ears that read Dot, so all the really pompous Jerseys in the herd call me Dottie because I am a little crazy and something of a vagabond. Some tourists that visit our farm stall take pictures of me and call me a lovely Nguni. The problem with being a designer African Nguni cow is that you might end up as a skin on a white wall in a fancy apartment overlooking the Elba River in Hamburg. At least I am not called Spottie like the farm’s irritating Jack Russel. But, to be honest, I sometimes get tired of standing in my own dung in a long queue, to then have my teats plucked at. One day, I escaped from the fields and headed south, on a long journey. Getting past Knysna was difficult and I had to keep on high ground above the town. In my rather bovine view of things I saw what human greed and development have done to this little, once quaint coastal town. Now monster trucks rumble through the main street and the place is clogged up with traffic and tourists. Near Mossel Bay, a herd of Herefords asked me whether I thought I was re-enacting the folk tale of Huberta the Hippo, who once travelled from Natal down to the Cape. I ignored them, because I am not fat and blubbery like a hippo and in any case, hippos have this disgusting habit of using their tails to flap their excrement all over the place. Along the coast past Gouritzmond the landscape got really bleak, kak and grey, ominous dark clouds were patching together overhead. That night, whilst sleeping on the dark desolate veld, I had a nightmare. I saw other dotted type cows glaring down on me with hateful thoughts and grunts. It was a surreal colourless world, devoid of green and happiness. Two days later, Mr. Wilson, found me and took me back to my luscious fields and obnoxious Jersey friends. The patches of cow dung still streaked all over his pants was comforting and sharing the back of the bakkie with an irritation called Spottie made me hum a country song.

African Nguni cattle stand along a country road between the coastal villages of Gouritzmond and Stilbaai of the Cape South Coast. The storm clouds of a cold front approaches from a south-westerly direction.

Parting shot. 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.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST

The great American landscape photography Ansel Adams once said: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer”. This scene, spinning back the years to 1976, finds me, the photographer, suspended in the air, at a viewpoint east of Hobas, high above the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. (27° 35’ 21.12:” S & 17° 36’ 51.45” E). On the ground, below a bottle of Windhoek Lager, lies the classic novel ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’, written by Ken Kesey. In 1975 this novel was turned into the blockbuster film of the same name starring Jack Nicholson, who is, with absolute reality, the inmate of a state mental hospital. Back then, I was a youthful 29 year old, a newly appointed lecturer in photography at a college in Durban. Lusting after life as an image-maker, I exhibited great exuberance and the madness of an adventurous traveller. So in this scene, I am acting the cuckoo bird, flying over its nest. This bird has the habit of laying eggs in other birds’ nests and a cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife. Anyway, here I am, setting the 8-second self-timer to my Nikon, then sprinting to the wall on the edge of the canyon and jumping into the air for the short exposure. After my 10th failed attempt, I see the arrival of a 1970 Valiant pulling a caravan. I guessed that, like me, they were also looking for an overnight camping spot. So now to get back to the Ansel Adams’ line —- they became the viewer. So just imagine: Here we have Uncle and Auntie So-and-So, watching what appears to be a madman, starting at a camera on a tripod, then sprinting to the edge of a canyon, turning and launching himself into the air. After a short while as viewers, they climbed back into their car and left, the back of the caravan disappearing into its own Namibian dust. After finally achieving my pictorial success, I sat down with another Windhoek and read from the book. It’s a scene where Indian chief Bromden, after receiving electroshock therapy quotes these nursery lines.

“Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn

Apple seed and apple thorn;

Wire, briar, limber lock,

Three geese in a flock.

One flew east,

And one flew west,

And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest”

(Since 1975, only ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ and ‘Silence of the lambs’ have won all 5 Oscar categories)

Obie Oberholzer in a self portrait ( with book ‘One flew over the Cuckoos Nest’ and a Windhoek Lager beer ) at the Fish River Canyon in Namibia in 1978.

The Bucket List

I call my friend Dan, Beterweet. That means Know-all in another one of our 11 official languages. We are sitting on a bench that has been placed high on a sand dune in memory of a local resident. It’s a dazzling beauty of a day looking out over the beach and the Indian Ocean. We are talking about ‘kicking the bucket’. Beterweet, tells me that the phrase is probably an old prison term, used when a prisoner would stand on the cell’s (shit*) bucket to commit suicide, by hanging, then a cellmate would kick the bucket out from underneath him. I tell him that I will be 71 years old next August. He smirks that he has known that for 50 years. After grieving joyfully about some of our friends who have kicked the bucket, whilst watching Cormorants and seagulls fly past our pristine view, I start talking about my bucket list. It seems a popular theme of late, even featured in a number of SA magazines. Beterweet chuckles and says that I can’t have a bucket list because there is a hole in my bucket. There is a short vibration from the bench beneath us. I ignore all this and start talking to myself, and the few Country Life readers who might still be reading ‘Parting Shot’. I would like, for once, to write the opening shot, go to the spectator’s gallery in parliament wearing a blue overall, go for a swim on Durban’s Kings Beach on Christmas Day, photograph in Afghanistan and if they haven’t kidnapped my bucket, travel to the Hindu Kush, (Dan and I attempted this in 1968, but due to severe snowstorms, only made it as far as Anatolia), sing a last song in a rock band, drive the Gun Barrel Highway across central Australia, return to the centre of the world, the Hotazel Bottle store in Hotazel, then wait for the first tourist to stop there and ask him for money for a halwe broodjie, have 3 of the best Guinness’ in Dublin, but almost top of my list is driving back up the Ongeluks Nek Pass again. It was years ago, sometime in the early 1980’s. I still remember clearly, skidding and spinning out more on the donkey and mule dung than the mud. On the top of the Ongeluk’s Nek, I took this photograph. Full bucket.