Namibian Odyssey

My last trip to Namibia left an indelible impression on my mind. The Namib Desert is characterised by large red dunes, which at 4000m are amongst the highest in the world. Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are expansive white salt and clay pans which are prone to flooding during years of exceptional high rainfall. Lakes, olivine in colour lie amidst the expanse of orange dunes where the contrast of colours is quite striking. Sunrise and sunset are the the best times to photograph Sossusvlei when the light is low and shadows are beginning to form on the landscape. So often we think about sand dunes as smooth rolling plains, endlessly shifting however, when viewed at dusk and dawn, the low angle of the sun and the sharp delineation between light in shadow betrays the sharp edges that exist in dunes – there literally is a line drawn in the sand.

The images below were all captured on a Fuji GX617 and 90mm lens with Fuji Velvia – the 3:1 format creates a powerful visual experience.

In the far north of the country lies Kaokoland, which is bordered in the south by the Hoanib River and in the north by the Kunene River which also forms the border with Angola. Backed by the Baynes Mountains, Epupa Falls drops some 60m and is home to some spectacular old baobab trees. I first became aware of Epupa Falls in a book entitled Africa by the Japanese photographer Kazuyoshi Nomachi. As a young man, I was captivated by an image he had captured of one of the baobabs in the late evening light and I decided that one day I would have to see it for myself. I vividly remember my first sight of this tree, which was from the window of a light aircraft that I charted for the three and a half hour flight (800kms) from Windhoek. We circled twice over the falls before landing on a nearby airstrip where I met my driver and guide Yan Hemmings. Within half an hour, I was setup and photographing the falls and baobab tree as the sun went down. Yan said to me in his broad Namibian accent ‘Fancy a drink?’, to which I responded positively, whereupon, he disappeared into the back of the Land Rover and produced two gin and tonics, in highball glasses with ice and lime! It remains a mystery to this day where he managed to get ice in this semi-arid landscape. A memorable moment.

Kaokoland is home to the Himba and Herero tribes who are semi-nomadic pastoralists, however in recent times many groups have settled permanently in one place. The Himba still dress according to ancient traditions and live in scattered settlements throughout Kaokoland. The woman particularly are noted for their unusual sculptural beauty, enhanced by intricate hairstyles and traditional adornments. They rub their bodies with with red ochre and fat, a treatment that protects their skin from the harsh desert environment.

The Herero people today are mostly found in the central and eastern parts of the country, having moved southwards from Kaokoland around 150 years ago. The origin of their dress is early 20th Century, which was originally forced upon them during German colonisation but which has now become very much part of their culture and is a source of pride and status.

After a long drive south from Kaokoland, we came upon a young Herero woman on the outskirts of Sesfontein – it was the immediate shock of colour amidst the semi-arid landscape that attracted me initially – a yellow hat and a tartan shawl – how could I resist!

If you’d like to experience this for yourself, join me on a new adventure this December.