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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.