9 August 2014

Murals at Warwick Junction

I have been rather involved in other projects and workshops the last few weeks so haven't got round to keeping my blog very up to date. I am currently in Durban and this morning started out like so many when I am in Durban with a trip to North Beach to catch a sunrise and then shoot some of the local surfers.

I arrived a while before sunrise and got the camera ready. Light changes dramatically in very short spaces of time with the best light generally being before the actual sunrise. I always try and capture something of interest in my sunrise images but if you know North Beach, then you will understand that this is not an easy task. There are no rocks nor interesting features so I had to make to with what was available. 

The first image was about 20 minutes before sunrise. The sky had started to glow and the colours were appearing. I tried a few different compositions and I quite liked how this one turned out. The little permanent umbrellas added to the ambiance, albeit that they were a little skew.

I carried on shooting for a while and the light constantly changed. I also repositioned myself for a more open view of the sea with just the pier leading me into the image. The sky had lit up with a pink glow that was dappled on the interesting cloud patterns. The sun was about to show it's self and that golden glow intermingled with the pink made for a lovely textured sky.

I shot quite a few more shots during the half an hour or so and was then ready to take on the surfers. I walked back to my car to change cameras and lenses and when I returned some 10 minutes later the wind had picked up and was howling. The sea had become very choppy with white caps covering for as far as the eye could see. I had met up with a few photographer friends, and some new ones to and we decided that photography was out and coffee the in thing. It was during this coffee time that one fellow tog mentioned that there were some lovely new wall murals that had been painted by Cape Town artist Faith 47 down at Warwick junction and of course, this became our next subject for the lens. 

As part of a cultural program of the 25th World Congress on Architecture  Faith47 was invited to paint six giant walls in South Africa.  The six walls, located under the main freeway overpass are situated in four giant supporting columns over looking the Early Morning Market in Warwick.

The artist explained:
 “The paintings are portraits of actual traders in the area. Perhaps the Inyanga looks like an everyday person, he is not dressed in a traditional manner signifying his vocation; its true to life. We don’t always know who someone is when we see him or her on the street, but there is a great wealth of stories hidden within each of us.”
“The atmosphere of Warick triangle is wild and chaotic, allot of people are scared to even venture into that area.This is a potent high energy zone which really reaches the people on the street. I needed to dedicate these walls to the individuals who work there, to the strength and importance of informal trade within our economy.  it is the people of warick who have made it so alive.The architecture truly belongs to them.” 

Four of us ventured off in search of these columns with the murals and after a nerve racking hour or so venturing through this intimidating part of Durban, we came across these beautiful, enormous murals. I was really impressed with the magnitude and the fine detail in every art work.

To give you a sense of scale of the size of these lovely art works.
We only reached the actual murals mid morning and by now the sun was harsh with some harsh shadows falling diagonally across some of them. I was not going to venture down to this area again for the forseeable future so I decided to shoot them anyway as their magnitude and beauty would still be clearly visible.

20 March 2014

Visit to Giants Castle - Drakensberg

I recently had the opportunity to visit one of my most favourite spots in South Africa. Giants Castle Nature Reserve is known for its magnificent San rock art, fabulous hiking, invigorating climate and the vulture hide. This KwaZulu-Natal nature reserve is an historic place and home to the Bearded Vulture. This beautiful reserve was named in honour of the peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains, whose silhouette resembles that of a sleeping giant.

The vulture hide is situated high on the side of one of the peaks and affords people to be able to observe and photograph these majestic birds. The site is frequented by both the Cape and Bearded vultures as well as on occasion, other birds of prey.

I arrived in somewhat cloudy and wet weather and was hoping for the best. The road up to the hide was at times very slippery and the 4x4 really worked! We quickly set up in the hide and then scattered the bones we had brought in the area in front of the hide. 

The waiting game began! Within minutes the crows and starlings were there and these can become rather annoying pests. They pick up and fly away with the bones, as if they were out shopping for their evening meal. 

Front view of the hide

View down the valley from in front of the hide

One of the pesky Red Winged Starlings

We hadn't been there for long when I noticed some ears rising over the horizon. The Black Backed Jackals had come for their meal. Although they are at times also active during the day, they mostly rest up in holes dug by other species such as ant bears (aardvark), as well as other shelters like rock crevices, under bushes etc. They are very active at night and are often seen at dusk and dawn. In areas where they are protected they are also active on cool overcast days, but in areas where they are persecuted by man they tend to be shy and hide away. Well this was an overcast day and there was easy food to be had so they were coming in for their lunch.

A bit of rivalary for the lunch but no serious damage done.

We had been watching the skies for any signs of the vultures that I had actually come to photograph and eventually we spotted a couple of birds doing the circling pattern for which they are so well known. A couple of Cape Vultures had arrived and were doing fly byes to see if there was something for them to snack on. 

The Cape vulture is one of the nine different vultures recorded in Southern Africa. Its conservation status is classified as “Vulnerable”. What makes this species so important is that it is endemic to this region and is found nowhere else in the world. If our Cape vultures become extinct, there are no replacements! Cape vultures used to occur all over southern Africa, even on Table Mountain, but now their population is declining and there are only six big breeding colonies left. Cape vultures are big, bulky, creamy-white birds with long, muscular un-feathered necks. Some people call them ugly! Their bald heads and long necks help them to keep clean while scavenging and accessing juicy morsels from right inside the carcass. Males and females look alike. Young birds have brown eyes which change to the yellow colour of adulthood at about five to six years of age when they become ready to breed.

Gliding past looking for food.

Coming in to land

Flaps open, brakes on, landing gear down!

Their bald heads easily seen and this one an adult with coloured eyes

The scavengers check their competition out.
The crows were coming and going and then one of them seemed rather odd to me. I took the binocs out and there, coming in was a Jackal Buzzard. The adult South African Jackal Buzzard is strikingly plumaged. It is almost black above with a rufous tail. They have a weeah ka-ka-ka call like that of Black-backed Jackal, hence its name.

A beautiful bird
 I was still waiting for what I had really come to see and photograph. I had caught a glimpse of a juvenile Bearded Vulture fly past earlier and I was really hoping for an adult to arrive. The Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the Lammergeier or Lammergeyer, is a bird of prey, and the only member of the genus Gypaetus. Traditionally considered an Old World vulture, it actually forms a minor lineage of Accipitridae together with the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), its closest living relative. It is not much more closely related to the Old World vultures proper than to, for example, hawks, and differs from the former by its feathered neck.

Whilst it is a vulture and feeds off carcasses it usually disdains the actual meat and lives on a diet that is typically 85–90% bone marrow. This is the only living bird species that specializes in feeding on marrow. The Lammergeier can swallow whole or bite through brittle bones up to the size of a lamb's femur and its powerful digestive system quickly dissolves even large pieces. The Lammergeier has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them in flight to a height of 50–150 m ) above the ground and then dropping them onto rocks below, which smashes them into smaller pieces and exposes the nutritious marrow. They can fly with bones up to 10 cm in diameter and weighing over 4 kg or nearly equal to their own weight.

A juvenile Bearded Vulture doing a fly by.

The adult is a lot prettier than the juvenile

A magnificent bird.

I stayed in one of the chalets in the Giants Castle reserve and while sitting on the patio having some much needed refreshments, this sight was in front of me.

A truly wonderful experience. It is no wonder that the hide is booked up for about a year in advance.

9 January 2014

Slangkop Lighthouse at Kommetjie, Western Provence

I recently spent some time in and around Cape Town and on one cloudy afternoon found myself heading south towards the small town of Kommetjie.

Kommetjie (Afrikaans for "small basin"),  lies about halfway down the west coast of the Cape Peninsula at the southern end of the long wide beach that runs northwards towards Chapman's Peak and Noordhoek. The village is situated around a small, natural and rocky inlet that resembles a basin. The area is a popular spot for surfing because of the powerful waves from the Atlantic Ocean that rise up over rocky reefs formed by hard sandstones of the Table Mountain Group. I ventured on to the Southern part of the town and followed the sign boards to the Slangkop Lightouse. The clouds were very heavy and I was imagining the dramatic images that I might be able to capture. I parked and headed over the wooden walkway towards the sea side of the lighthouse and I had timed it perfectly. The tide was out!

Now Slangkop is the tallest cast-iron tower on the South African coast. It was installed on the 4th March 1919 and stands 33 metres high. The tower looks out over the surfers, fisherman and divers and over the years it has served its purpose steering ships around the dangerous rocks and hidden reefs. Slangkop was established as a result of a commission appointed on 29 September 1906 by His Excellency, the Honourable Sir Francis Hely Hutchinson, Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.
The height of the focal plane is 41 metres above sea level and the light has a range of 33 sea miles and has four flashes every 30 seconds. The lighthouse is now fully automatic and receives its electricity supply from Cape Town Municipality and has a standby diesel alternator in event of a break in the mains supply (or Eskom loadshedding)

I navigated down the rockery slope and onto the rock bed (which might I add was exceptionally slippery, leaving me finding myself smack onto my butt a few times). There was a lovely contrast of colours between the colours of the rocks, the green moss like growth and the reflections of patches of blue sky in the water puddles. I set the tripod up and started shooting, often changing positions for different viewpoints and compositions.

The light was constantly changing due to the movement of the clouds and being close to sunset, the colours were changing as well. No two images were going to be the same.

After I had captured enough images I went back up to the wooden walkway and the light had changed quite dramatically again.

In between the lighthouse shooting the sun had set and I had turned and managed an image or two.

I stopped for one last lighthouse image on my way to the car park to round off a very successful afternoon.