Feb 23, 2015

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. Fellowship Orientation in Grahamstown.

I have photographed a number of times for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and it must be said they are the most stimulating and rewarding events to take part in. Allan Gray Orbis invests hugely in "bright young minds", individuals that they glean from across Southern Africa and then groom through a complimentary academic programme that is as intense as their selection process.

What a pleasure to be surround by the cream of South Africa's brightest, most enthusiastic and progressive thinkers. So powerful is the programme and so powerful are the people that I found myself uplifted, empowered and above all, hopeful for the future of South Africa. And all this amidst a now all too common session of "load shedding".

This event saw Allan Gray Orbis fellows from the Eastern Cape all gathering under one roof at Rhodes University for their 2015 orientation. A progressive, creative and entrepreneurial mindset is key and this event saw the likes of Tshepo Phakathi, CEO of Phakathi Holdings, and Mashudu Madzhie, Director at Solidaire Construction and Elspeth Donovan from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership exchanging with the fellows.

Tshepo Phakathi, CEO of Phakathi Holdings

Elspeth Donovan from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

And this why Allan Gray Orbis is so exciting, there are no motivational, vertical 'addressings'. But there are plenty of more powerful, horizontal exchanges. Ideas, concepts, strategies and experiences are traded alongside motivation, encouragement and inspiration - a process of inevitable positive outcomes.

Feb 18, 2015

An African Impact

African Impact is a volunteer organisation that I have been involved with for a number of years now. On a recent wildlife and landscape photography workshop in KwaZulu-Natal we had a very special encounter with one of the well known old bull elephant. Tori, hailing from Manchester, UK, was especially privileged. She had been waiting most of her young life to see an elephant in the wild and told me she had always avoided zoo's so that her experience wouldn't be tainted. We had been on a few drives and the elephants had left their calling cards but we hadn't been able to find them. Then we did.

We spent some time sitting with three bulls all known to the guides and staff at Thanda and African Impact. An old favourite pulled a huge branch down right next to the vehicle ate for a few mins then walked behind the vehicle. Perhaps it was because he felt we weren't paying him enough attention, but he then walked right up to the vehicle and said "Hello!" in a silent elephant sort of way.

It wasn't dangerous at all as he had been with us for nearly 40 mins before he wondered up to the vehicle but it is not the sort of behaviour one wants to encourage nor condone as continuous close encounters with wild animals blunten the authenticity and capacity for the animal to respond and behave 'naturally'. It is for the same reason that Uganda does not permit physical interaction with habituated gorillas. If they come too close, even if the gorillas are choosing to approach, you'll be firmly but safely moved away by the guides.

Elephant are real gentleman and should be treated as such. Too often (and this is a pet peave of mine) nature is constructed as savage and extreme. Everything is either dodging death in a headlong and unavoidable quest to pass on a genetic package of some sort or is primal-y focused on killing to survive so as to deliver on the same mandate. A sad simplification in my opinion.

In any case the round about purpose of this post is to show how images (and their henchmen - text) can lie to us so spectacularly. As people we tend to feed our egos and there is evidence of this all the time. Almost everyone these days it seems, gets 'charged' by some 'rogue' animal or other. Guides sometimes feed this 'heroic-narrow-escapeism' with angry shouting and diminutive language. What a pity! Often these 'dangerous' encounters are nothing more than a conversation. Elephant saying 'hello - but I'm a little nervous'.

The first picture (below), with the creative blur etc, looks super dangerous, like a full on charge, ears out, the trunk is even rolled up (people who think they know often flag a rolled trunk as evidence that separates a mock from a real charge). Impact certainly seems immanent.

The second picture (below) reveals more of the truth. The 'rushing-elephant-look' (above) is the result of a relatively slow shutter speed and a 'walking head nod' by the elephant. Was the elephant close? For sure. Was it dangerous? Not at all. Encounters like this should be seen for what they are - a privilege. Not a prequel to ensuing triumphant self congratulation. The wild is not out to get us and we are not special when we emerge unscathed. We should be critical of media that suggests otherwise as it is sensational and sad (take a look at the titles of almost any NatGeo Wild or Animal Planet daily line up and you'll see what I mean: here is the names of the top four titles in alphabetical order: Africa's Deadliest; Alpha Dogs; Animal Fight Night and Animals Gone Wild). Lets rather be honest and, like Tori, lets enjoy the privilege.

Feb 16, 2015

Picture a Week (PAW): Wk6: Tusker

I'll write a little more on this privileged encounter with one of Thanda's old timers and our wonderful encounter with him. In the mean time here is a teaser in the form of this weeks PAW entry.

Picture a Week (PAW) Wk6: Tusker. Canon EOS 7D. Tamron 70-200mm at 200mm.  ISO  200. F/2.8 @ 180th

Picture a Week (PAW) Wk 5: Bianca Phillips. Master's in Philosophy student.

Picture a Week (PAW) Wk 5: Bianca Phillips. Master's in Philosophy student and recipient of the 2015 David Ryan Memorial  Scholarship for Philosophy. Canon EOS 7D. Tamron 24-70mm at 70mm. ISO 100. F/4 @ 125th sec. Fill light with Canon 340 EZ strobe at ¼ power.

Feb 10, 2015

Keeping Still at a Taxi Shooting

In South Africa, taxi ranks are not the safest or most liked places in our country. But they do have an ominous immanence about them. They do for me anyway. I spent about an hour in the company of this rank, concealed a story above the road on some sprawling shop balconies whose purpose I couldn't quite work out. A bar behind me played scratchy Bob Marley numbers with tinkling glass overtones. It was voyeuristic to be sure, but it felt safe. From up there it gave me time to think and to compose. Unfortunately I didn't think enough to turn off my lens's image stabilisation (or vibration control as it is called on a tamron lens) so the first twenty minutes were a right off. I hate it when I do this.
And how is that for a misleading blog title!

Canon EOS 7D. Tamron 24-70mm at 70mm. ISO 800. F/16 @8sec. 

Canon EOS 7D. Tamron 24-70mm at 35mm. ISO 200. F/13 @30sec. 
Canon EOS 7D. Tamron 24-70mm at 57mm. ISO 6400. F/10 @7sec. 

Canon EOS 7D. Tamron 24-70mm at 35mm. ISO 200. F/11 @30sec. 

Feb 9, 2015

Picture a Week (PAW): Wk 4: Reflecting a Silent Synagogue

Two things always exert an existential pull upon me whenever I pass them by. In no particular order they are graveyards and places of worship. They both centre on souls and because of this I always feel a sense for the lost. This synagogue in Grahamstown is now used by a group of lawyers and notaries. I don't know when its worship stopped but a severed gravestone leant against the wall was for a woman buried in 1953, forty years after the place was consecrated. There was no other reflection of the past.

Picture a Week (PAW): Wk 4: Reflecting a Silent Synagogue. Canon EOS 7D. Tamron 24-70mm @ 24mm. ISO 400. F/6.7 @ 1/30th

Picture a Week (PAW): Wk3: Blew Moon

A full moon rising over the Atlantic Ocean found me in search of high ground to photograph its rotundness. I was late and battled boringly tall buildings and distracting overheads. I eventually decided to cut my loses and go with simplicity. This, I find, is a great approach when there is a bit of pressure (time/deadlines, whatever). I liked the result and used a tungsten white balance setting to bring in more blues. Keeping to an 'auto' white balance (AWB) would have introduced a yellow caste, a colour I wanted to keep for the moon.

Picture a Week (PAW): Wk4: Blew Moon. Canon EOS 7D. Tamron  70-200mm @ 200mm. ISO  200. F/11 @0,7sec. WB set to 'tungsten' Exp Comp -2.

Picture a Week (PAW): Wk2: In a Cityscape

I find it hard to resist a good clear evening. So it was that I headed into the Eastern Cape's city of Port Elizabeth to do a 'nights cape'. I spent most of the time photographing a Taxi rank just below me but loved the look of this promenade. I knew the low light and long exposure would render a colourful warm and inviting glow to the image and I liked that this would be at odds with reality which was cold, windy and stank of the excrement liberally planted all along the balcony on which I stood.

Picture a Week (PAW): Wk2: In a City Scape. Canon EOS 7D, Tamrom 24-70mm @24mm.  ISO 200. F/8 @30"