The Karoo – a project finally underway

Ubiquitous wind pump, Victoria West

Ubiquitous wind pump, Victoria West

Road trip. What images the words conjure. Places seen, things spotted and mental notes made for next time. Photo opportunities.

This one had a simple genesis; a wedding in Johannesburg. And, rather than fly up and back from Cape Town, we opted to treat ourselves a bit; drive a very indirect route up the west coast road and then inland with overnight stops in Springbok and Upington. Return with a couple of nights in Victoria West, deep in the heart of the Karoo (desert).

Almost 800 uneventful kilometres from home, I spotted this rock a few minutes south of Springbok and wondered whether the morning sun would light it up for me.

Pre-dawn, Springbok

Pre-dawn, Springbok

So, I struggled out of a warm bed just after 04:30 the next morning, grabbed my cameras and drove south to the spot and still the sun didn’t oblige. Still, it’s an interesting pic; the regularity of the rock against nature’s random-ness. Despite being empty in the upper half of the image, the dawn sky makes it whole.

Fence line

Fence line

Early morning on the road to Hondeklip baai

Early morning on the road to Hondeklip baai

Springbok sits astride the N7 – the road north from Cape Town to (after another 1000km driving) Windhoek in Namibia. About 100km from the west coast, the town remains a staging post, with a smallish national park and the remarkable Springbok Cafe – known as the Hard Rock of the West Coast; more for it’s extensive geological exhibits more than it’s burgers. A single steakhouse offers more traditional fare. Aside from car repairs, there isn’t much more here for the traveller.

Twin wind pumps, Springbok

Twin wind pumps, Springbok

Thursday. Eastwards, we drive for around 600km, past the manganese mine at Aggeneys and little else except unchanging bare scrub. The highlight of our long day; arriving in Upington, we spot the unfinished 240m high receptor tower for South Africa’s first solar concentrator power station in the distance. Seems like a huge amount of work to produce 5MW, but at least the fuel is free and we’ve got plenty of it…

Friday – Upington to Jozi (Johannesburg) is unremarkable, with the exception of passing the iron ore mine at Sishen, which seems to go on for many kilometres and gives me an idea for a future photography project.

And, after a weekend with old friends in the city we lived in for thirty years, we now head south again. Victoria West, our stopping off point in the Northern Cape is almost 900km away.

Driving. Much driving. Very much driving. Yaaaawn.

Almost sunset, Vosberg

Almost sunset, Vosberg

Approaching sunset, Victoria West

Approaching sunset, Victoria West

You know you are far from anywhere when the map display on the satnav is just a single unchanging straight line from the top to the bottom of the screen. This is desert. The word evokes all manner of mental images; most likely rolling sand dunes and miles of not very much. Well there’s little of the former here, but lots of the latter.

Distance = temperature

Distance = temperature

When I first came to South Africa, I recall a friend telling me that (holding his palm out at shoulder level) the Northern Cape was where the fuck-alls grow this high. He wasn’t wrong.

I plan to photograph the region, knowing full well that in the main, it is flat and featureless. It’s a long term project; nothing that can be achieved in a single visit. This is a good start, however.

Sunset, Victoria West

Sunset, Victoria West

Desert road, Victoria West

Desert road, Victoria West

Traditionally, landscapes need to be shot at dawn or dusk to maximise the effect of the sun’s light. Here, the sun’s light is like a laser from the time it peeps over the horizon until it dips in the west. And, as I have long wanted to try and find a way to shoot landscapes in broad daylight, now’s the time. I shoot in colour, but b/w conversion brings what seems to be an appropriate atmosphere and a gritty feel to the images I make.

Farm gate near Loxton

Farm gate near Loxton

Farm entrance, Carnarvon

Farm entrance, Carnarvon

In the middle of the day, the temperatures can reach the high thirties and at night, plunge to the mid-teens in what seems seconds as the sun droops towards the horizon. Despite having lived in Africa for almost four decades, the speed at which day arrives and departs continues to surprise. Here, the multi-hour dawns and dusks of Europe are reduced to just a few precious minutes of photo opportunity.

Like most places in the Karoo, Victoria West is small, dry and very dusty; hardly surprising for a town that measures its annual rainfall in millimetres. It’s almost sole income stream is the lamb that flourishes in the sere desert on it’s mineral rich and tasty scrub. A trip into the Karoo isn’t complete without a least one lamb meal – around here that’s almost certain to be a big fleshy red wine stewed shank, or thinly cut tjoppetjies (chops), sprinkled with white pepper and grilled on a glowing braaivleis (barbeque) fire. Cold beer and wine aren’t optional.

So, what’s to see out here? Not a great deal. The horizons are almost limitless, the sky usually untroubled by cloud from dawn to dusk. The small detail; a wooden fence post, gnarled by the sun, wire stays, the odd pool of water, left from recent rains. The ubiquitous windmill water pump.

Karoo home

Karoo home

Farmstead near Carnarvon

Farmstead near Carnarvon

My day and a half exploring the desert around Vic West is soon over and home beckons. With me are a few hundred images and some half-formed ideas as to how I can take full daylight images in the desert and retain the dawn/dusk impact and beauty so essential to other forms of landscape photography.

Delete blurry images? Think again.

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Pascal Jappy has just posted a new article of mine. It deals with a subject close to many photographers’ hearts; blurry pictures. The link is: Dear Susan.

More Iceland interest

DSC_2830 - Version 2My photographs shot in Iceland continue to generate interest.

I entered several in a recent Squarespace competition on FeatureShoot – one has been selected. It’s here: FeatureShoot

I didn’t win the prize – a free year of Web hosting by Squarespace would have been nice – still, the visibility is good to have.

In steam (again)

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Following my recent post regarding Pascal Jappy running one of my pieces on his Dear Susan blog, I had en e-mail from John Shingleton, author of The Rolling Road, a photography and motor sport blog, asking if I would mind some of my images also appearing on his site.

In recent months, John and I have developed an e-mail acquaintanceship, largely predicated on mutual experience and taking photographs in various places around the world.

I was therefore delighted to accede to John’s request. You can find the site here – while you’re there, his motorsport and other tales are well worth a read.

Summer in Scotland (4)

Link to a post on my photography site: site.

Saving Steam

SONY DSC

I’m fairly unashamed about my love of steam trains. Being able to photograph those that remain in service is a spin-off of my regular family-driven trips to the UK. Nowhere else is there the same kind of interest, dedication and regular availability of these motive power giants.

Earlier this year, I wrote a short piece about my interest, thinking I might seek publication somewhere other than my own site on the Web.

Thank you then to Pascal Jappy at Dear Susan, a blog I read often and the site that pushed my interest in little cameras and great lenses over the edge into action.

Pascal published Saving Steam yesterday (Sunday) along with some kind comments about my work and a link to the PDF of my earlier SoFoBoMo entry of the same name. The site is here

In case you’re interested, the SoFoBoMo PDF is here

Sadly, SoFoBoMo (SOlo PhOtographic BOok MOnth) is now defunct :-(

Flying stuff 1

Dubai. Midnight.

I’m on my way home and have a four hour wait for a connecting flight to Cape Town. I’ve looked in the endless duty free shops, eyed cheap booze and wondered whether I want something else to eat. In the end, after eschewing the shops and restaurants and walked into and straight out of the of the all-smoking, shabby bars, I found the Heineken bar.

My two drinking companions have since left. One for a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the other for Perth and then a two and a half hour flight north to an almost complete new gold mine, where he works as a carpenter. I have another two hours to wait for my Cape Town flight.

It seems as though Dubai’s plan to become a global airline hub is reaching some kind of fruition, with a constant flow of travellers passing through the lounges, shops and gates 24/7.

My KL-bound companion is a regular flyer with Emirates and says that has been in and out of Dubai at just about every hour of the clock. He says there aren’t any quiet periods; times when the hundreds of shops close, the bars are silent or there isn’t a press of humanity in the aisles and public conveniences.

It’s a huge airport, befitting an airline with just about every type of giant airliner. Emirates has what seems like hundreds of Boeing’s long haul 777s, Airbuses, including many of their new 380s. My flight from London the first on an A380, Airbus’ giant double deck bus of the skies. It was as huge as it was comfortable (as an economy class seat can be). The lamb meal option, possibly the best I ever been offered by any airline. And, despite being an Arabic airline, alcohol was in almost as plentiful supply as vacant toilets.

In short, if you are prepared to live with the couple of hours delay in flying via the Middle East, the monetary benefits can be well worth while.

This wasn’t a planned trip. I needed to get to London in a hurry, stay three weeks and get back home. August/September are peak months, with most flights booked solid for months in advance. I was the offered the sole seat on a BA flight on my chosen day of travel to London for a ridiculous R15k, or with Emirates into Birmingham, plus three weeks of car hire and a return via London to Dubai for measurably less. No brainer.

Air miles? Got lots of those, but they are almost as difficult to get rid of as AIDS. Finding a seat is almost impossible, even months in advance. Then your realise that the flight only costs around R1800 and that there is still almost R6k to pay for “airport taxes”, whatever they are. It’s a scam.

If you haven’t sampled the Arabic route yet, you should. Overall, it costs about six extra hours and depending on when you travel, can easily save 30% to 40% on your air fare.

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