In what seems like the blink of an eye the Composing the Dunes workshop has suddenly arrived. I'm writing this overlooking the vast expanse of the grassy plains to the east of the Namib Desert on a rest morning that is sorely needed by our weary group of photographers. Although we have only taken in one of the selected landscape venues of the photography workshop, one of our photographers admitted that it seems unlikely that what we have already seen could possibly be improved upon. Yet, every inch of Namibia is like that. The country is a landscape photographer's dream.
The logistics of preparing for a workshop of this nature are enormous, and here I am incredibly thankful for Nick and Freya from Tailor Made Safaris for their tireless commitment to giving the photographers in our group an incredible experience. We're only on day 4 at the moment but it feels like we have been here for a month - not because anyone wants to go home - simply because there has been so much to do, see and photograph.
Driving out of Windhoek northwards on the B1 highway, Namibia shows off it's first-world nature. Sprawling suburbia, well moneyed at that, rings the distinctly German city that itself is ringed by a series of high hills that give the capital its name (to whit: windy corner). Large drops of rain pelted the windscreen as rolling grey clouds obscured the blue sky as far as the eye could see. The amazing smell of wet earth rose from the dark gravel on either side of the highway, mixing with the aroma of newly moistened tarmac. Jokes rang out amongst our group about the fact that many had traveled from distinctly wet countries only to come to the desert to find...more rain. Not that it lasted long. Drawing closer to the Skeleton Coast the clouds broke up and we were confronted with a flat, dry landscape that looked like rain was nothing but a memory.
Then suddenly coming up over a rise lay Africa's Eyres Rock, the Spitzkoppe. Standing in sharp relief against the flat landscape, the Spitzkoppe and Pontok mountains rise like stone giants from the desert's floor. It really is as if some ancient creature lay down from weariness and turned to stone. Angela, our lone German photographer kept pointing out the shapes of a baboon, a person, a snake. The mountain captures one's imagination and it's hard not to be mesmerized by its complete isolation and majesty over the flat hard earth around it.
Photographing this incredible rock is a pleasure. Every corner holds another composition. Mick, one of our English photographers exclaimed that you'd be concentrating on the light on a particular rock and not realise what was happening behind you, until upon turning about you would be blown away by the incredible light show unfolding in front, behind and to the left and right of you. To be fair some of us were overwhelmed by the location and the light that was presented to us. There is almost too much. It's as if your visual senses are saturated with information, so you are only able to stare while the tripod and camera stand neglected to the side.
On our first day we worked our way to the east of the blazing red rock and photographed the setting sun out towards the Skeleton Coast. Working around the rock the amazing colors kept us enthralled until we inched our way down to where Nick and Freya set out a finger snack feast of gemsbok strips, beef fillet, smoked mussels and cheeses. What a privilege to stand amid the incredible spires of rock and take in the night air!
Over the next few days we spent time photographing the sugar loaf (as mist wrapped around the base of the Spitzkoppe) and watched as dawn light crept along the arch. A special moment for myself was watching the stars in the extremely early hours of the morning from the vantage point of the arch. The dizzying array of the universe seems even more incredible when viewed through the Cathedral like lintel of the arch.
So now we sit at the edge of the Namib Desert at the rather luxurious Rostock Ritz. Tomorrow we enter the dunes and the magnificence of the red sands. A flight over the desert and stars above the Dead Vlei await us. I can't wait.