At the beginning of the year African, for whom I run a regular photographic workshop, moved their photography base of operations from St Lucia on the east coast of South Africa to Thanda Private Game Reserve. Last week was the first of what I hope will be a long line of workshops stretching into and beyond the foreseeable future. To say that it was a flying success would be an understatement.
I left St Lucia with a lump in my throat and some admitted skepticism toward the move from the biodiversity rich St Lucia wetlands to the decidedly exclusive private ‘big 5’ game reserve in the hills of Zululand. In the past three years Photography volunteers have spent a month in and around iSimangaliso using photography as a means of conservation education and taking part in conservation projects for the delicate coastal dune ecosystem. Conservation will continue, only now they will be based in the northern reaches of the wetland system and within the newly acquired King’s Land that abuts Thanda and doubles the size of the reserve. I left the photography students yesterday before they were slated to begin an intensive alien invasive eradication program.
That’s the conservation, what about the photography though? Well, in a word, marvelous. The photographers were treated to wonderful sightings of white rhino, buffalo, elephant, cheetah and lion in the first week. With another three weeks to go they are virtually guaranteed some amazing photographic opportunities. The course itself is set in an old luxury lodge that is used for training purposes. The learning -and teaching- experience itself is incredible. The lodge is all but exclusively reserved for the photographers with meal times arranged around their lessons and practical shoots. What better way to learn photography than under the thatch of an African lodge with a group of giraffe strolling past (admittedly this was initially a distraction. It’s a tad difficult to garner the students’ attention when wildlife is visibly wandering nearby)?
One of the students, Sarah K, succinctly pointed out the inherent value of such a workshop. When you are completely immersed in photography, as we were for three days from 5am till 9pm, you cannot help but learn. Although I am personally self taught (it’s taken a good 2 decades so far), the learning curve achieved through a workshop eclipses the slow progress that I made on venturing into photography. The lessons are only a part of it. Assignments, critiques and general discussions are all ‘photocentric’. The results were a stunning selection of images that were put up for show on Thursday night. This is the kind of stuff that reaffirms my faith in photography. What an incredible gift image creation is!