Monthly Archives: April 2009

Desert. What is in a name?

My first images of the desert originated from watching David Attenborough documentaries as a child, seeing photos of the Sahara and Namib desert in my father’s books – and of course watching David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. I am amazed to learn here in Namibia that the desert is all that but many other different things as well. All ethereally beautiful, haunting and magical.

Namib desert. The name Namib actually means wide open space. You may think 8 hours of driving through the Namib desert would be 8 hours of repeat scenery. You would be wrong. The desert keeps changing and re-inventing itself, gravel desert, sand desert, majestic mountains (yes I too was surprised, huge mountains in the desert), rolling hills, wide open plains with wildlife, dried up riverbeds. Grass. It has rained more than normal so the desert is green in many places! And sand dunes of course. Massive sand dunes. Small dunes. yellow sand, orange sand, deep red sand. Rounded windswept dunes. Tall laser sharp dunes reaching for the sky. Desert. What is in a name? A lot more than I thought!

The Namib desert is over 2,000 km long. Two thousand kilometres. It boggles the mind and challenges all ideas of distances and space. So much space. I boarded a 6 person ‘flying bathtub’ of a Cessna to get images from above. Once airborne my eyes struggle to compute the information. The Namib desert is larger than many countries. So much space. So beautiful. Sand dunes snake their way to infinity. Again, shooting a photo is like fitting the universe in a shoebox. No photo can convey the feeling of being in the desert heat, wind and dust with a 360 degree view of pure desert. But I can try. And come back and try again and again, as I have fallen in love with this hauntingly beautiful place.

My entire belief system is all natural science. But the normal laws of nature and physics  do not seem to apply here. On every desert trip we’ve been discussing how far away the perceived horizon is. Meaning with a perfectly flat surface, where would an 1.8 meter tall human perceive the horizon to be with the curvature of the earth in mind? In the desert it seems like hundreds of kilometres. A lot of googling has not revealed a definitive answer but it appears to be around 4.5 kilometres away. The perceived horizon on a flat surface that is. Does not make sense. Here in the Namib it is 50 km at least. Also, my 17mm wide angle captures about a 110 degree view. In the Namib that looks like the width of a hair. It appears the view in the Namib is also wider than 360 degrees. Driving back through the desert Sunday night we had bright as daylight deep red burning dusk light on the horizon in front of us. To the right a sliver of a moon. To the left the Southern Cross and a million stars. Behind us the dark night. Must have been a 720 degree horizon. Something magical is up with the laws of physics in the Namib!

Creating images of this is indeed proving difficult but here’s a few quick previews of my feeble attempts of capturing the many shapes of the desert. I am saving the real hero shots for when I get home so stay tuned.

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Me and My Shadow – on top of the Nissan in the gravel desert

Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Dunes of Namib-Naukluft stretching to infinity

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Sweeping wide open desert plains

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Into the abyss, the desert in dusk light from top of Rössing Mountain

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Windswept round dunes outside Swakopmund

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Classic laser sharp crest of Namib dunes

Randomness

  • Had to buy a sweater the other day! Desert gets warm at day but cools down quickly and gets cold at night! Also Swakopmund on the coast is sometimes haunted by a cold sea mist that I’m no fan of. So in the desert, you need a horse with no name, lots of sunscreen and also a sweater!
  • Swakopmund was established by the Germans back when Namibia was a German colony, before World War I. So there are many German settlers here, and you can shop at SuperSpar and buy Ritter Sport and Nutella! Some of the German tourists here also seem to have a ‘How to look like a tourist’ competition wearing Khaki safari gear top to bottom. The German spoken is a ‘high’ German very easy to understand and I’m startled to find I remember my German and can follow almost all conversations. Afrikaans, still working on that!
  • Driving at night here can be an interesting experience. Some of the back roads are not marked at all, so at night with an oncoming car it’s anyone’s guess where the road is. There are a few very interesting seconds where the cars pass each other, both drivers regain vision and discover they didn’t hit each other – and still have at least two out of four wheels on the car on the actual road! With every oncoming car this experience is repeated. Keeps you awake!
  • The Namibian desert and sun is energy for my soul! I take it in like a solar panel, feel very re-energised, re-booted, re-vitalised!
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Namib Desert. Desert is home.

Man was born in the desert. Desert is home. The words are Bruce Chatwin, I heartily agree with him. No landscape could be more alien to a Danish farm boy like yours truly and yet at the same time be so fascinating and possess a strange power. Desert is home.

I have just spent 4 days in the Namib desert. I am lost for words. To say it’s magical does not come close. I have never seen nor experienced anything like this. Even the vast outback of Australia seems a little smaller, a little less empty. The Namib desert is the oldest in the world with the largest sand dunes, up to 400 meters tall and it does truly boggle the mind to see these. But as spectacular as the dunes are, they are just one part of the whole Namib desert experience. 

Space. There is so much space. So much it does not really fit in my brain. The sky seems a million kilometres away. Horizon is always at infinity with perhaps the odd tree or mountain in the far far distance. So much space. Composing an image here, even on a 17mm wide angle, is like attempting to fit the universe in a shoebox. So much space. Not Into The Wild but Into The Nothing as seen here:

Namib Desert - Into The Nothing. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

We drove from Swakopmund to the sand dunes of Sossusvlei for a 3 night bush camp. On the map it does not look like much. In reality it is a 8 hour 360 kilometre road trip on bone rattling corrugated roads through the most incredible ever changing desert country. Sometimes a moon landscape, sometimes ancient mountains, sometimes wide open desert plains with perhaps a herd of springbok. So much space. Namibia is a huge country with a population of only 2 million. So much space. You could easily loose the entire country of Denmark in the desert and never find it again. You could also easily loose yourself. So much space!

Our mode of transport was a Nissan 4WD work pickup truck, no fancy frills, all performance. Our trusty truck had no air con, with the windows open we could truly feel and taste the desert, the dust and the hot wind adding to the experience. If Namibia the country has a flavour it is the warm dry dust of the desert. We named the car Nissi and she runs like a tractor. Bit rough, but tough (‘we breed ‘em tough here, Africa is not for sissies’ – a popular saying) and she never let us down (she did blow a tire and ran hot but not her fault!)

I really am lost for words and also time, so for now I’ll just leave you with a few very quickly developed jpeg previews from Namib Naukluft National Park. Shooting here was a fantastic experience and difficult, will be the topic of many a forthcoming blog post. The Canon 5D Mk II performed perfectly and I seem to just attract good light and interesting clouds at the moment!

Namib Dunes. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Sunrise at one of the thousands of dunes; we were lucky to get clouds

Namib Dunes and Oryx. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

A lone oryx walks proudly in front of the dunes

Deadvlei. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Dead tree at Deadvlei on a morning with extraordinary cloudscapes. I was so lucky this morning, nice soft light, beautiful clouds where as the norm is boiling hot harsh light from a blue sky.

FBJ at Work in Namibia

And lastly, me & my shadow at work in the dunes. No I am not scratching my head!

Randomness

  • Spare batteries for the Canon 5D Mk II are impossible to find, so it’s fortunate that the battery performance is brilliant. Managed over 1000 shots on a single charge!
  • In the desert we were stopped by a Namibian police officer. He was lost. An accident had been reported, 150 km out of Swakopmund towards Windhoek (which was not the road we were on). Had we seen the accident he asked (no you’re on the wrong road). Oh and did we have mobile reception because he didn’t (no of course we didn’t either and I can’t believe he doesn’t have a sat phone). And had we seen his mate in another police car because he had lost him as well by outrunning him (no to that as well). My friend had to show him a map and really spell out directions for him. He thanked us and we drove on, a few minutes later we met his mate, the other police car, coming towards us, and a few minutes after that, the ambulance. I hope the people in the car crash were ok or dead or they’d be suffering for a long time. My friend tells me that was an insight into how the government can work here. Oh btw the amount of idiots doing 120 km/h on the corrugated dirt road are staggering. No wonder there are accidents!
  • Forgot my torch. I own 2 expensive torches and forgot them both. A torch is the essential item for camping, can’t believe I forgot them. Bloody city boy I am turning out to be!
  • Namibian mozzies are stealthy bastards. Don’t hear them. Don’t feel them. Until you wake up with 10 new bites! Promptly installed a mozzie net over my sleeping bag on day 2 but still slept outside under a million stars, the only way to camp!
  • Hospitality and friendliness of my Namibian friends, the family Eckleben is overwhelming. I can only offer a million thanks. I am now installed in my own house in Swakopmund and have my own bicycle to get around (incidentally also runs and feels like a tractor!). I truly am Bicycle Repair Man – a select few will know what I mean.

And sorry for lack of responses! I am online very little, so no emails etc. at the moment and few updates. Actually it’s nice to be offline for a while, kick the internet drug for a bit. Concentrate on photos and experiences. See ya!

I rode through the desert and it started to rain!

The title is of course a play on the lyrics of the band America’s classic song “I rode through the desert on a horse with no name”! It refers to our perfect day in the desert. A very special perfect day. Otherworldly world class light. Green Grass in the normally arid desert. Extraordinary cloud systems in all directions. Magenta Sun Setting. Blood Red Moon Rising. Rain. Yes. Rain in the desert! It rained for two minutes and we all got out of the truck and celebrated this perfect day! More later, first a recap of my first 3 adventure filled days in Namibia:

Arriving at Windhoek

At Windhoek airport you step out of the plane straight onto the runway. Dry warm desert air caress my body, strong harsh sun light re-energises my soul. I immediately fall in love and I do a movie-like 360 degree spin looking at the sky and taking it all in. An American woman laughs and says “You must be happy to be home!” “Well, feels like home” I tell her! Customs only take two minutes, I pick up my bag and meet my good friend Gudrun and her cousin Kyra. We drive to Kyra’s house and I meet the rest of the family, the husband Etienne and kids Andre and Maxine. Their hospitality and friendliness knows no end. I switch to shorts, shirts and thongs. I sit in the garden literally inhaling the lovely weather and sunshine. Certainly feels like home! Cricket games in the garden, great barbecue (called braai in Afrikaans) for dinner, mozzie bites after 10 minutes. Certainly feels like home!

Windhoek

Capital of Namibia with an estimated 300,000 inhabitants. City centre is very small, the suburbs are spread out over the hilly landscape. I only did a few hours sightseeing but found a nice laidback country atmosphere, outback and relaxed as I like it. A quick snapshot from Independence Avenue:

Windhoek. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Veld Wedding

My friend’s family and a pair of their friends are attending a wedding held in the bush – bush is called veld here and pronounced ‘felt’. Since it is the Easter holiday they are making a bush camping trip out of it. So off we go on Good Friday, to the farm where the wedding is held which is in the bush about 30 k’s out of Windhoek! The setting for the wedding is gorgeous and the bush camp is lots of fun as I struggle to keep up with a thousand campfire jokes told in Afrikaans.

Perfect day in the desert

Saturday, Gudrun, Gudrun’s mother and stepdad and I drive from Windhoek to their home, the coastal town of Swakopmund. We take the scenic dirt road route straight through the desert. We end up taking more than 8 hours as we keep stopping on this magical one out of a million day. A perfect day. Out of this world light. Huge rays of “god beams” showing the way. Green Grass on the desert plains. Magenta Sun setting. Blood Moon Rising. Two minutes of rain. Gudrun’s mother having lived here her whole life says this is unbelievably spectacular. Too good for words. Will never ever be repeated. This drive deserves a long blog post of it’s own some day when I get the RAW files developed. Developing 5D Mk II files on my old laptop is like watching paint dry, so for now I’ll just leave you with this small jpeg preview of desert travelling on a perfect day:

Namib Desert. Flemming Bo Jensen

Swakopmund, between the ocean and the dunes

I am now in Swakopmund on the coast. Our front yard is the ocean, back yard is huge sand dunes – literally down the end of the street! My eyes must be lying I tell myself but witness this snapshot from inside the car, driving along the coast:

Swakopmund. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

More to come about Swakopmund and the surrounding area. The world’s largest sand dunes in the world’s oldest desert are on the menu from Tuesday! See ya!

Into The Wild

I am shamelessly lifting the title from Jon Krakauer’s brilliant book and Sean Penn’s equally brilliant movie about Christopher McCandless. The title is just so fitting for my quest to photograph the world’s untouched, remote and desolate landscapes and for my “back to nature” obsession.

Tuesday I take off Into The Wild. Namibia is the first stop in the next 3 months of travel and photography work that will also take me to Australia and ultimately Borneo. On Borneo in June I am working for 2-3 weeks for United Plantations; shooting their plantations and surrounding jungle on Borneo, documenting their eco sustainable production of palm oil. A very interesting assignment; I will be working alongside a Danish reporter with film crew shooting a documentary, while I take care of the landscape stills.

But first up in two days is the amazing otherworldly dunes, deserts and landscapes of Namibia! Will be out of this world spectacular to shoot this:

www.namibiatourism.com.na

Adventure and magical landscapes calls me. See you on the flipside!

Photo courtesy of Namibia Tourism Board – http://www.namibiatourism.com.na