Crossing the desert one last time we drove between Luderitz and the Fish River Canyon, before snaking our way back north-eastwards to the incredible scenery of the Quiver Tree forests north of Keetmanshoop. Crossing the desert was itself an experience. The tarred B4 highway shoots straight as an arrow after the permanent dunes around Kolmanskop towards the West. Distances are truly vast, particularly when you get to the flat landscape of the Khoichab depression that looks more like it should be found on Mars rather than on earth. The searing heat throws up shimmering mirages that double the sense of vastness.
Not that I took much of this in. I had finally hit my wall the night before during the star-trail shoot and crashed inside the vehicle for a much needed snooze. Serious lack of sleep had caught up with me from the very little sleep we had afforded ourselves while in the Namib-Naukloof National Park. Revived, I arose somewhere near the weirdly out-of-place Seeheim Hotel. This odd feature on the map is marked as a town, but is actually the site of a near 100 year old hotel that had a township spring up around it during the heady days of the diamond rush. One should visit simply to say you have been there, and at least pop into the bar and stare quizzically at the stuffed animals, some of which are meant to be used as drinking (more like quaffing) aids. The mercury hovering at 48 degrees centigrade soon had us cowering in the air-conditioned comfort of our vehicles as we cut southwards towards the Fish River Canyon.
It was on this road that we had our last bit of vehicular damage. The Landy hit an oddly shaped rock that managed to de-bead a tyre. The result: a completely mangled tyre that we had to replace a day later in Keetmanshoop - (be warned, Namibia is hard on vehicles). Still, we made it to the oasis-like Gondwanaland Lodge where we sipped cold beers while discussing HDRs (High Dynamic Range), from the summit of a rock pile in the middle of the desert. What better way to toast the sunset.
After an early morning visiting the edge of the Canyon, we moved in towards the otherworldly landscape of the Quiver Trees. The Mesosaurus Fossil Site and Quiver Tree Forest has to be one of my favourite locations for a photo shoot. The trees are phenomenally photogenic. Our choice of timing is to particularly catch the amazing skies that happen every November over this portion of the country. Kaleidoscopic sunsets are the norm while it’s practically guaranteed that you will see rainbows if there is so much as the hint of rain. November may be bloody hot, but it’s doubly picturesque.
Our last evening had drama in spades as a howling wind picked up a dust storm and hurled it at the desert varnished rocks. Some of the photographers even managed to capture lightning strikes over the quiver trees (well done Angela and Mark). Marc (our South African Marc), couldn’t stop beaming as he worked his way from tree to tree amongst the tumbled brown boulders. I think everyone was finally in their stride. I certainly felt this was the case as Selwyn (our other South African), Marc and myself finished up our shooting with a touch of light-painting as the clouds scudded past.
What a trip! I am using the word ‘trip’ for its multiple meanings here. The Composing the Dunes workshop was an absolute success in my mind. There were good suggestions from our intrepid photographer group which we will incorporate into next year’s workshop. Looking at the images in our last crit session I actually felt quite emotional. Each and every one of the photographers showed substantial progress. It wasn’t just that that the images were finely composed and carefully arranged, there seemed to be an improved fluidity with how everyone handled their cameras. At the beginning of the workshop the questions flew fast and furiously at us over things that we didn’t want to dwell on (ISO, aperture…the basics). By the end of the workshop the photographers were looking critically at the choice of subject, figuring out balance and framing of elements. We had made it past the camera and into actual art. The photographers weren’t taking photographs anymore. They were making images. There’s a world of difference between those two statements.
Then we parted ways. Sue, making us jealous by continuing for another two weeks through the rest of Namibia and Freya (our dark horse photographer) similarly with her jaunt on to Borneo for three weeks. Nick and I waved everyone off from Keetmanshoop before starting our long overland trek back to Kwazulu-Natal. What a trip!
My many thanks to Nick and Freya from Tailor Made Safaris for their tireless efforts in ensuring that the first full Composing The Dunes Workshop was a success. I don’t think I could have found better partners for this workshop. Then to all the amazing photographers who joined us on the workshop. Every one of them was a pleasure to spend time with. It’s hard to think of my work as work, when I get to spend my days with photographers like them in places like the desert. Keep a look out on these pages or subscribe to Photo Writing to get the details for next year’s Composing The Dunes Workshop.