The Great White

The Great White Shark. Natures Valley. South Africa. 2016

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The pallet that I hold in front of my canvas of journeys has on its surface a painterly collection of characters and places. What I paint on that canvas is a small aspect of my attempts to enlarge and capture pictorially, the greater essence of all that surrounds me. I have seen places of great beauty, strangeness and endless vastness. With people, it is much the same. Sometimes, we just pass through each other’s lives and then fade into the past. It takes all kinds to make this world, each one of us with something special hidden somewhere. Of the many incidents and stories encountered along my way, I hold the one told to me by Andrew McIlleron, in shock and awe. It counts amongst one of the most frightening personal stories I have ever heard. Andrew is a soft-spoken, reserved man, who lives not far from me in Nature’s Valley. He moved away from the big city razzmatazz of modern advertising, to find his own creativity and peace in our small coastal village. His first love lies in the beauty and the might of the Indian Ocean, in the waves that she rolls in from the big beyond, onto the beach in front of his house. You must understand, that, above all, Andrew is a surfer. On a day that sparkled bright, the water was a miracle of clarity and blueness. It’s about 3:30 pm, late summer, about a year ago. Position: Approximately 150 meters out at sea, big incoming waves, gentle, about 2 meters in height. Our man of the sea, floating the swells alone on his surfboard, then spots a massive fin some 30 metres away. The monster of a Great White seemed to hover in a forward position —- its head slightly down and tail fins exposed. Suddenly, in an explosion of black and grey, this enormous fin rockets towards our surfer. In a moment of unexplained clarity and fright, from a primal instinct of survival, Andrew pushes his board and head under the surface of the water and screams a full mouth of air and sound. The water vibrates and the scene around him is transformed into bubbles of panic and spray as the shark cruises closely by. Then a lull descends on the water around him, the ominous foreboding of another attack hanging still, like that of death. There is —- almost nothing, an eerier stillness of fear, the terrifying fear of knowing that you are being hunted by one of the ocean’s prime predators. Then our surfer sees the shape of the dark shadow targeting him from the depths below. Once again, Andrew ducks below the surface and screams. The huge shark bumps the surfboard, angles into a tight curve and circles again like a submarine trailing bubbles. Suddenly, inexplicably, it is gone, into the blue. The surfer manages to paddle his way ashore and falls exhausted onto the sand, his whole body shaking with fear. Always curious, I asked him about the screaming? Andrew once read a book by the famous underwater still and motion photographer Hans Hass (1919- 2013) in which he mentions the underwater scream as a defence against a shark attack. He estimated the shark to have been about 3.5 meters in length and he should know. This was Andrew’s 2nd encounter and since then he has had a 3rd Great White scare. Believe me, Andrew McIlleron is not a man to over dramatise matters, he is a man who simply loves to surf.

 

The story of Andrew McIlleron

The story of Andrew McIlleron

The Inside Man (Die Binneman) – Julius van der Wat

Incredible story of 37-year-old Julius van der Wat who lives his life in Jozi’s beautiful Valley Road.

Is there a standardized normality in the society that we live in? ‘Yes and no’ – is the broad answer and in that lies the abnormality of normality.”

Sometimes during the setting of the Blue moon and the running of the gauntlet, I have to stop and remove the flotsam that has gathered around me. Not the little bits of wood kind of flotsam but all the debris of ill-conceived thoughts and actions. Those of us who walk our paths on earth with the froth of life’s impurities and limitations have to dump them sometimes. Cleanse ourselves of the bullsh*t to see the real again.

I know a guy who makes me see beyond the daily, makes me realise life’s values, makes me clarify the mind and re-energise the soul. He is 37-year-old Julius van der Wat, who lives his life in Jozi’s beautiful Valley Road.

Julius van der Wat

Julius van der Wat

The first time that I saw him I was heavily under the influence of Bacchus’s fermentation. He appeared as this half-focused, odd figure tied to the inside of a wheel chair. In my boozy way I peered down on him and said, “What on earth is wrong with you?”

During the silence that followed I could hear a Boeing pass up high, up heaven’s way. Then he said, “I have spastic Quadriplegic palsy”. Just like that, just like it was, just how it is and how it will be till the end of his days.

Gee-whiz, that was all of twenty years ago. Through the years that followed I slowly realised that inside this man grew a field of flowers beneath the sun, inside his outer shell of captivity, his physical jail, buzzed a beehive of intelligence, creativity and humour.

Someday, back a while, I found myself driving around on a large saltpan in the Northern Cape. This wasn’t a place for the Bacchanalian or the dagga smoker or the flotsam gatherer. This was the place for the existentialist, the truth chaser and separatist. You see, I wanted to find what happens when you separate the body and the mind. This is not new; this is the ancient quest of trying to fly the mind, separate it from the physical restraints of the body. I achieved this by using my Willy Nelson bandanna as a blindfold, then driving my bakkie on a large Northern Cape saltpan at full speed until the physical loosens its grip on the mental, till the body floats away from the mind.

After 6 minutes of darkness at 150km per hour on the Verneuk Pan, a kaleidoscope of images flashed in front of me, a thousand thoughts overtook my body and for a short time there was a sensation of floating, a feeling of knowing.

When I had stopped, in a sweaty panic, when all my parts had filtered back into a single me, I realized just a little — the feelings of Julius van der Wat, whom I have come to name, the Inside Man. He must know this way of separation, the way his stiffened body holds a mind straddled by a great hall of thoughts and a different interpretation of life. I have never told him this, but perhaps, one day I will.

Over conversation that followed with Julius I came to realize that these thoughts were mere extensions of my awkwardness, my feelings towards his outward oddity and not the greater being that resides within his mind.

He speaks to me. I watch only the expressions in his eyes and not the light that clothes his deformities.

“Disabled means broken, but I am not broken, I am ‘differently-abled’ and I just do and see things differently”.

Julius's faithful helper and friend, Jacob. Jacob passes away some 2 years ago.

Julius’s faithful helper and friend, Jacob. Jacob passes away some 2 years ago.

 

Julius and Jacob before going to a match during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Julius and Jacob before going to a match during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Being born a twin to his able- bodied brother Koos and one of 5 sons, Julius often reflects on the frustrations and hardships of growing up. He fought not only societies preconceived standards of expected normality and conformity, but also the prejudices towards his disability. He looks odd, so people stare at him without engaging him at all. They often speak only to his helper, many afraid that he will answer the way that he looks.

Once, waiting outside the toilets in a shopping mall, he was approached by a young, unsupervised child, who touched his spastic hands and asked him why his hands were different. Julius, delighted to be recognized beyond his wheel chair, explained to the 8-year old: “This is the way that God made me”. The boy’s eyes reflected his wonder and fascination.

Is there a standardized normality in the society that we live in?

‘Yes and no’ – is the broad answer and in that lies the abnormality of normality. Julius’s ‘normal’ is foreign to most able-bodied people, so many see him as being ‘abnormal’. His differences were especially emotional growing up with his twin brother, Koos, who is considered ‘normal’.

During his teen years, he often questioned God: “Why me, why not Koos?”

One night, lying in his bed, he remembers God’s reply: “Why are you testing me? I have a purpose for you in your wheelchair and when that purpose has been fulfilled, I will take you up to heaven and you will walk”. At this stage I want to say something but I don’t. I hide the fact that I am not so tuned into the ways of the Lord; I hide it at the back of my mind. Then the observational genius of Julius the Inside Man finds it there and says, “I know what you are thinking, just remember that the voice came to me and not to you”.

 

Julius van der Wat's digital graphics done on his iPad using Sketchbook Pro application.

Julius van der Wat’s digital graphics done on his iPad using Sketchbook Pro application.

Now, at the age of 37, Julius is content with who he is.

His youthful jealousy is something of the past and although he still has daily frustrations, as we all do, he has various coping mechanisms.

He sees a psychologist regularly, which is very important for him.

He can discuss his frustrations.

Julius’s way of life, or better said, his advancement beyond his limitations have been nurtured, in great proportions, by the love and dedication of his parents, brothers and family. They have continuously helped him to keep that light burning within him.

His previous and present helper, Jacob and Jafta, are entwined in his life like the creeper that hugs a tree.

They are his arms and his legs, his wheels, his assistants, his feeders of food, his bathers and where he goes, they go.

His twin brother is so wonderfully normal that it’s almost boring. You know, great achievements at school and varsity, great engineering job, nice car, big Jo’burg flat, expensive suburb, lekker person – almost boring.

Then Koos married a French woman and it all went suave, normality became fashionable clothes with a lilt in his gait and a smile on his face. The wedding was held in Paris so Van der Wat’s clan went off to Paris. Julius went to Paris and Jafta wheeled him down the Champs- Elysées.

Julius has two hobbies, the collecting of small model cars and teddy bears. I lie not – cars and teddies.

His father, a fanatical collector of vintage cars, was responsible for starting the model car collection and Winnie-the-Pooh was responsible for the teddy bear collection.

His collection of teddy bears and model cars. His room is filled with the stuff.

His collection of teddy bears and model cars. His room is filled with the stuff.

Technology has contributed tremendously to his personal empowerment.

Since Grade 2, he has been computer literate and now, thanks to a headset designed by Izak, one of his brothers, this has progressed way beyond the odd email. He punches in the keys on his touch screen iPad using a stylus (a plastic or metal stick with a conductive tip to which an iPad reacts in the same way as a finger). I have stood and watched him do this on many occasions and each time I have been humbled by this remarkable achievement. Just imagine typing out a letter with your head. But of course, mister smart-arse ‘Inside Man’ wanted a lot more.

Jesse the Boerboel dog glances back at Julius in the Van der Wat's sun-porch living room in their home in Parktown, Johannesburg.

Jesse the Boerboel dog glances back at Julius in the Van der Wat’s sun-porch living room in their home in Parktown, Johannesburg.

 

Something much deeper and visual had been lurking around within him; something visually strong, locked inside of him, needed liberation. He wanted to illustrate his feelings, his love and often his sadness, in graphic images. So the man, with his near total loss of all motor functions, found another voice through digital illustration.

 

Julius working on his iPad.

Julius working on his iPad.

Using the APP called Sketchbook Pro 1 for iPad, Julius can now draw his art works using the touch screen Stylus pen on his iPad. These illustrations are not Photo-shopped ready-made stencils or computer generated art, these art works are drawn and designed from a blank screen. They spring from a mighty heart that feeds a unique mind. They are laments from the soul. They project and express the thoughts of a man who is shackled in the physical outer, handicapped by the lack of every motor movement except a small tilt of the head. They are laborious in their execution, taking hours to complete, but on completion they move mountains in the mind of the creator.
Julius with his dog, Jesse. Here he can be seen in his wheel chair and working on his iPad.

Julius with his dog, Jesse. Here he can be seen in his wheel chair and working on his iPad.

Jessie, the Boerboel comes to lie on the chair next to Julius. She seems to know how to wriggle her head under his spastic hand. I take a picture, that’s all – just a picture.

Far above, close to heaven, a Boeing rides the sky to Europe. The Inside Man and me just sit. Sometimes sitting together means more than words. After a while Julius quotes from one of his favourite books, Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. “Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem”

One of Julius van der Wat's digital graphics done on his iPad using Sketchbook Pro application

One of Julius van der Wat’s digital graphics done on his iPad using Sketchbook Pro application

 

Another digital graphic done created on his iPad using Sketchbook Pro application

Another digital graphic done created on his iPad using Sketchbook Pro application

 

Image shows graphic art created on Apple iPad using the Sketchbook Pro application
Image shows graphic art created on Apple iPad using the Sketchbook Pro application

 

Another incredible digital graphic by Julius van der Wat

Another incredible digital graphic by Julius van der Wat

Art by Julius van der Wat's using the Sketchbook Pro app on his iPad

Art by Julius van der Wat’s using the Sketchbook Pro app on his iPad

Views on Africa

Schermafbeelding 2014-09-08 om 13.13.32

On the occasion the Cologne Photoszene Festivals Photokina laif Agentur für Photos & Reportagen will show the works of six multiple awarded photographers represented by laif – covering different thematic and photographic approaches to the topic “Africa” in the Art Spaces of the Michael Horbach Foundation in the exhibition  Views on Africa.

Per-Anders Pettersson, Jan Grarup, Christian Lutz (VU), Obie Oberholzer, Peter Bialobrzeski and Thomas Dorn will present their personal views on Africa from very different angles.

They accompany people between gold rush fever and disillusion in the post-apartheid South Africa, they dive into the world of economy with its consequences for society and environment in Nigeria, into Somalia that is torn by war and terrorism, into the dreamlike world of traveling – which promises freedom and happiness, they present an insight into the living and bedrooms in the slums of Kliptown in South Africa and last but not least, they lead us into the world of African rhythms which reflect the diversity of this gorgeous continent.

  • Per-Anders Pettersson – Rainbow Transit
  • Jan Grarup – Somalia
  • Christian Lutz (VU) – Tropical Gift
  • Obie Oberholzer – Long Distance
  • Peter Bialobrzeski -Informal Arrangements
  • Thomas Dorn – Houn-Noukoun – Gesichter und Rhythmen Afrikas

The Vernissage will take place on Friday September 19, 2014 at 7 pm..

Andreas Trampe, Director of Photography of the German Magazine stern will give the opening speech.

  • Location: Kunsträume Michael Horbach Stiftung | Wormser Straße 23 | Cologne
  • Duration: September 20  to October 19, 2014
  • Opening Hours: At Photokina weekend, September 20 and 21, 2014 from 11 am – 7 pm
    Afterwards: Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 – 5 pm, Sundays from 11 am – 1 pm. And by arrangement, please call: +49 – 221 – 29 99 33 78

Radio 702 Talk Show with Jenny Crwys-Williams. Johannesburg. Wednesday 13th November. 2013.

Skimmers & Evaders

I have been asked to tell more pothole stories. I am not a funny Professor of Potholes. Potholes are serious business and can cause brain damage, Potholetenites, destroy vehicles and a country’s economy. I have just realized that my European Face-book friends may not know what they are. So in German a pothole is a ‘schlagloch’; in French a ‘nid de poule’ and in Spanish a ‘bashe’. Some years ago I was travelling to Chipata on one of the planet’s worst roads. Zambia, once Northern Rhodesia, achieved independence from the British in 1964. Most of the country’s tar roads were built in the 1950’s and have not been repaired since then. Potholes that appear on asphalt surfaces become very deep with jagged edges. In Africa there are two kinds of pothole drivers: the Skimmers and the Evaders. The first kind are the maniacs who skim over the potholes at top speed. The latter are the drivers who try to evade and circumvent the largest holes and sometimes cover twice the distance. A Skimmer and an Evader meet in the Hallelujah Bar in a village on the Chipata Road after a long day of travel. It’s quite late because the Evader took a lot longer. So how do you tell the difference between the two?  The Skimmer’s head continues to shake in a vertical manner and the Evader’s head shakes in a horizontal way. The Skimmer gets drunk before the Evader because his mouth is always hanging open and it can find the glass easier. The Evader, however, is always more talkative because the lobes of his brain are slightly less damaged. One of my greatest dreams is to meet a female Skimmer. Locals in the Hallelujah Bar thought that female Evaders were less fun. Photographically, I believe that Evaders, with their probing horizontal eye movements, are visually more alert than Skimmers. Just remember that in Zambia most people have bicycles, which makes travelling on most of the Zambian roads much easier. I even heard that the Zambian president has a bicycle. I don’t think that my president, Jacob Zuma, has a bicycle. I believe that he has a huge compound with a number of dwellings, five wives and a big limousine for each one of them. He’s our glorious leader: a Skimmer and Evader in one.  He’s a great singer and dancer, because he can move his head and body all over the place simultaneously. My weirdest pothole experience was when two men and two pigs passed my bakkie along the Chipata Road.

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Zambezi Hands

I am in Teté, watching the sunset over the wide Zambezi and hiding behind an aloe on the veranda of a bar high up on the riverbank. As the world’s worst sunset photographer, I should be in hiding, but I am focussing the last rays of my visual prowess on the scene down at the water’s edge. There are hoards of locals following their daily routine of bathing, laundry and dishwashing in the river. Children are frolicking everywhere. Ah — sorry, back to the aloe. As an ‘Mzungu’ (White-man) the aloe is my camouflage, my spiky protection against the African notion that all Europeans are rich. In 1974, I did a journey from the Cape to Cairo. All through that journey, children would run up to me, stick out their grubby little hands and shout, “Give me money, give me money”. The rural African greeting.  Once, whilst driving in Tanzania between Songea and Tunduru, the road was so potholed it gave me diarrhoea. Shit road. The one pothole was so big that I could drive the Land-Cruiser down into it. I could then jump from the edge of the pothole onto the cab roof and onto the other side. Then, from all this jumping, roofing and potholing, nature’s will forced me into the bush for a ‘boskak’. This word cannot be translated into any other language. There’s nothing greater than doing it the African bush. So whilst I was squatting there in the wild landscape and my bakkie was parked in the deepest pothole in Africa, three little naked boys walked right up to me and said. “ Give me money”. Now then, back to the aloe in the bar. The setting sun reflects in my lens and flickers like it does when the Taliban spot the US Sniper on the ridge, like in the movies. Chaos explodes along the river as children charge up the ridge shouting,” Mzungu-Mzungu, give me money”. I sigh and say to my Aloe Vera, “ Oh shit”. I speak in broken English and they chatter away in Nyungwe. In Africa, if you can’t understand each other, then share something. They all want to touch the Mzungu’s hand and so we share a moment of happiness with the last of the warm Zambezi light.