We were on a morning game drive on the Klein’s Concession in the Serengeti. It had rained and the moisture was still hanging in the air when we drove through the forest just behind our camp. Our Masai tracker Steve spotted lion, feeding on a kill. As we came closer we saw that it were all young lion, sub adults, probably on an expedition not far from the main group of the pride. They were feeding on a warthog and we could see that they had dug out the warthog from his burrow, lots of earth had been moved and there was a big whole. After a while watching them, one lioness went into the warthog’s burrow and came out with a young warthog, still alive and screaming. She was looking like she didn’t really know what she was doing, following more an instinct then being hungry or wanting to hunt. The young warthog would die without its mother, either starving to death or being killed anytime later by other predators or scavengers. It was better to make it short and that might have been the silent assignment of nature for this lioness. She killed the young warthog and ate it and she went back to the burrow and came back with another one and another one. There had been three young warthog without mother and the young lioness did what she had to do, although she didn’t do it fast. Our Masai tracker Steve couldn’t watch it, because the youngsters were still alive for a few moments. He wanted her to do it fast and easy for the little ones, but maybe the lioness was just too inexperienced to understand that. It was an impressive sighting, showing the innocence in the face of a young lioness while holding a struggling young warthog in her mouth, causing it pain and stress, before eventually doing what she is supposed to do. Nature is pulling the strings.
What is romance? “Romance is more an inner state of being emotionally open without expectations and conditions towards people, animals, plants, things”, anything, it’s a state of unconditional love. (José Stevens, Tao to Earth) Photography is working with light and all in photography is determent by light, the settings on the camera, the composition, the colors, contrast, depth, just everything. Sometimes the light “isn’t so great”, yet photography is capturing the moment beautifully, with some efforts, but it does. On other occasions the light is “perfect” and photography happens effortless. Whatever it is, photography manages to work with light, under any condition, taking the light as it is or creating the light as it is. Photography loves light unconditionally, well maybe sometimes a little curse slips the tongue, but this is only part of the process. Photography and light are a romance and as long as photography will be done the romance will be there, maybe for eternity.
When looking at Steve McCurry’sphotographs it feels like tapping into the soul of the moment or person he captured, like in the image above from his series “Food for Thought”. Repeatedly occurring words in his quotes are “soul”, “grounded” and “hope” and yes, they are in every image, almost penetrating the viewer while looking at them. Obviously Steve McCurry has the deeper connection with his subjects, capturing souls and hopes, yet his solid grounding makes these deep insights possible. Soaring on soul level requires grounding, just as artistic heights in photography require a solid technical grounding. He got both and well balanced. His photography is food for thoughts.
The Photokina has started and millions of people all over the world are waiting for the technical photography news to flood into their inboxes. Will Canon come with this 46 Megapixel camera? How will be that NikonD600 entry-level full-frame camera? There will be new “Porsche” and “Mercedes” and “city cars” for the photographer to play with. But will they be of any meaning for the success of a photo safari?
Technical photography gear is important for photo safaris. You will need a camera with a reasonable speed in order to photograph the fast moving objects and you will need a good zoom lens to get them in the picture, recognizable as a lion and not only as an undefined dot. But do you need 36 megapixels? Most likely not. As fantastic as the Nikon D800 is, it is not the most suitable camera for a photo safari. Shooting these big files costs speed and memory card space and if you have a proper zoom lens, you don’t need to crop afterwards. Do you need all the accessories, tripods, gadgets, bags and straps? Keep it simple. Don’t get lost in technology. On a photo safari you are in the most beautiful and demanding environment for photography and not in a studio. You got to connect with this environment, understand it and translate it into photographs. Too much technical gear will only be a burden. Keep that in mind when packing and for the rest enjoy the inspiring news from the Photokina.
“Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.” (Susan Sontag, On Photography, in 1971)
Photography is part of our daily life. It gives us joy, lets us express our creativity and makes us grow as artists and persons. It captures moments for us and lets us relive them when we would like to experience them again. It captures the love for our families and visualizes our dreams. Photography is magic, accessible to everyone.
Magic needs to be wielded with care and responsibility. Like in Goethe’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” it can go wrong and the magic tool gets out of control. One of the recent examples is the death of the American ambassador in Libya. When his body, most likely already dead, was held up and about to be carried away, bystanders took photographs of him in this vulnerable moment and the New York Times seemed only be too happy to publish them. In the Netherlands paramedics have problems doing their work, because bystanders interfere with them in order to take pictures with their cell phones from, for example car accident victims. And they even get violent when police or paramedics try to keep them away. On the other side of the scale the topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge are silly (who hasn’t seen a pretty young woman topless on a beach) and intrusive to the private life of a person. And now with all these “sorcerer’s apprentices” around how do we stop this? Most likely there will be no easy way to stop this. It will take time to create a general consciousness of respect and dignity, a consciousness that something powerful as photography needs the “master” and not the “apprentice” to unfold its entire beauty and strength to serve mankind as a tool of growth. And yet, photography itself is the tool to enable people to develop exactly this consciousness. One got to drive a car in order to learn driving and one got to practice photography in order to become a “master”.
The New York Fashion Week is always a mega event for photography, of course fashion photography, but this year not only the photographers took photos, also the models did. They even made a documentary while walking on the show. Designer Diane Von Furstenburg embarked on an experiment and had het models wearing Google Glass. Not only did it look fancy, they also made a film of the show. Watch it here.
Early wake up call at 5.30 a.m.. I wanted to shoot a sunrise. We were up quickly and off into the park. Paul had a tree in mind which would make a perfect picture with the sunrise in the back. We were racing. The sun came up quickly. And there was the tree. One of those beautiful umbrella trees set out as dots on the big planes of the Mara. While racing there I had mounted the camera on the tripod and was ready to shoot when we got there. It was awesome. This gracious tree in the golden light. I was happy. It was a good start of the day.
While getting back into the vehicle we heard a lion roaring. We thought immediately of the pride of lions we had left the previous night and headed towards the area. Unfortunately when we got there we only had to follow a trail of vehicles. The lions had settled around a mount. The females and males were lying around in the shade of bushes. The cubs were climbing the mount with their full tummies. They must have had a kill.
It should have been ideal for photography. Blue sky, sun, a pride of lion with playing cubs, but it was hectic. Many vehicles were there and made a half circle around the pride. But when more vehicles arrived the circle became close to a full circle and this is not the background for the lions you want. Some vehicles arrived and drove through the whole scene, the drivers were sometimes very close to drive over a lion’s tail, but it didn’t look like the lion were irritated by that. Maybe we were a sighting for them and they were amazed what a competition was going on in front of their eyes.
In sight a few hundred meters away, another group of vehicles was watching something. The group was growing, so we assumed it must be a cat and they were all looking at a tree, so it must be a leopard. We left the crowded lion sighting and drove over to the tree. Yes, there was a leopard in the tree, but the sighting gave only space for two vehicles and the visual was 2 out of 5. Nonetheless there were six vehicles fighting for a good view on the leopard. It was ridiculous and we decided to come back later and drove back to the lion. We were not the only one to drive back and forward between the lion and the leopard. It was an absurd scene of vehicles racing between the two sightings trying to get in a good position. The whole scene felt like it was all about the humans and their competition and not about experiencing the beauty of wildlife. After a last attempt to get to see the leopard we left. A vehicle had parked in front of the animal, blocking the space for another one, people sitting on the roof and moving constantly, so that parking in second row made no sense too. I had enough.
We heard that three cheetah males had been seen and we went there. It was in a different area and a bit of a drive. Another vehicle followed us. It was a guy on his own cruising around in his Land Rover. He asked Paul to stop and talked to him in Swahili. After that we carried on and he tailed us. I asked Paul what this is about and he told me that the guy doesn’t know the way to the cheetahs and asked him to guide him there. I stopped the car, stepped out, walked towards the Land Rover and stopped him. What did he think speaking sneaky in Swahili to Paul and using a guide I had paid for to get to the sighting. I wouldn’t mind, but ask me too. Obviously the piled up anger from the vehicle sighting race of the morning came onto that guy. I apologized, but since then he kept his distance.
The cheetah were in rough territory. Rocks were lying everywhere and access was difficult. Also there the same story. The sighting gave space for two vehicles and one was blocking it. Sometimes I’m not sure if the drivers just don’t know how to handle a sighting. This one felt like that. The cheetah were beautiful, but my photographs were not. I guess the emotions of the morning distracted me and I wasn’t focused, but the animals were awesome.
We drove back to the camp to have lunch and a rest. That would be the chance to reset for the afternoon game drive. And it did. The lunch was nice and I had a shower and a nap. I was ready to go out again.
The strategy for the afternoon was to go back to the lion and to see what more is coming on the way. Rain came and the light went bluish and soft. The lion were still wide spread around the mount. We decided not to go anywhere else. Just to stand our ground and see what’s going to happen (there was enough space for about twenty more vehicles). It was lovely. The cubs were playing with their mums, some of the females were taking position on the mount to scan the area for prey and the male lion were lying in the bushes. And then the rain started again. I loved to watch one female who was on the top of the mount, trying to hide her head between her paws against the rain. She closed her eyes, waiting the rain to stop. She was beautiful.
We too closed our “eye”, the hatch and went back to the camp, were leaking tents needed attention and Alex was waiting with dinner.