Reflections on AfricaWednesday, June 8, 2011
Earlier this year we traveled to South Africa thanks to a wonderful invitation from one of our image partners, Gallo Images. We went to Africa thinking it’d be mostly business in Johannesburg and Capetown, pebbled with a little safari outside Kruger NP, and some down time in the Cape Winelands. What we experienced was so far above our expectations that it’s hard to put in words how affected we were from the time we had there.
I’ve been reviewing amazing photography from throughout Africa for over thirty years now and it’s always been interesting to hear of our photographer’s adventures and exposures to the culture and wildlife there. What you don’t experience in the photographs, however, are the non-tangible things; the distant roaring of animals, bellowing from the hippos, the calling between the birds, and the wind and sun on your face. Further, the panting of lions laying in the shade of a tree, so gorged on a recent kill that they care barely move, or the smell of the decomposing body of their kill – these are the things that stay with you. We were fortunate to stay at Londolozi’s Tree House, a large private reserve that’s been in the Varty family for a hundred years. They are well regarded as great stewards of the land and have been involved with the elimination of fences between parks and private properties in their area, so that the animals can roam more freely, thus allowing for healthier biodiversity among the species. The extraordinary accommodations were a luxury we hadn’t expected, but one that we embraced in every aspect! The rangers and trackers who drive the Land Rovers are filled with extraordinary knowledge and to be able to get so close to the animals and even follow them as they’re hunting for prey after dark is an experience we’ll never forget!
Our meetings in Johannesburg and Capetown couldn’t have gone better and it was so wonderful to meet our image partners in person! They showed us the true hospitality of the South African people, on the highest level. A highlight was a visit to a local voodoo/shaman shop where we ordered up some special potions and powders for doing good business together! Amazingly, within a few hours we were rewarded with some very good business news! I have seen many fetish shops through the eyes of our photographers and always wanted to visit one myself. All kinds of bones were hanging from the rafters, including dried baboons and other creatures, as well as big glass jars filled with roots, teeth, jaws, flowers and many things that would be hard to identify. What was interesting while we were there is that many local people were coming in with scraps of paper (prescriptions). Our host Herman, who is a Boer and grew up around Zulu tribesmen, was able to ask one Zulu man why he was getting “dried droppings”. “We burn them at night to keep the evil spirits away and it also helps the children sleep well.” Interestingly, the next day I was reading a natural history magazine article about how the natives burn elephant dung to open up the sinuses and help people sleep at night. With my Anthropology background, these are the kinds of experiences that make traveling the world much more interesting to me.
Lastly I just want to say that I think Capetown is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The sweeping mountains along the coastline are dramatic and impressive. Our time in the Cape Winelands was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone. Set in the midst of these majestic views, they are modern as well as traditional with the old Cape Dutch architecture still part of the landscape.
I wanted to share all this with you because I know so many of us look at photographs of Africa all the time. We know that photographers travel at great lengths and expense to get where they’re going,
often with hardships along the way. They spend days, weeks, often months in the bush in order to capture the behavior of the wildlife and ecosystems throughout the many seasons. My firsthand exposure made me understand how special this place is and not only why we need to continue to
support conservation issues in any way we can, but also why it’s important to have extraordinary photography to document and teach the next generation. With ever-increasing budget cuts all around, we need to do all we can to support the need for this kind of photography. We hope you’ll do whatever you can to endorse this position the next time you have a budget meeting. Thanks for listening and if you haven’t been there already, put Africa on your Bucket List!
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