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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Through the Desert to A Ghost Town - Part 2 of the Namibia Workshop Recce

Leaving the surreal landscape of the Quiver Tree Forest we cut across the southern end of Namibia towards the coastal town of Luderitz. The landscape only gets more surreal as you journey along the B4 highway. Dolerite capped hills disappear and you find long avenues of short grassed sandstone hills that march along the side of the highway, forming a huge geologic avenue of sorts. The very occasional farmhouse stands out starkly against this semi-desert landscape. An oasis of humanity in a sea of emptiness.

But it changes. Rapidly. From these soft hills the horizon suddenly starts to get hazy as the heat builds up an ocean of mirages ahead. Oncoming vehicles grow as a ghostly reflection and the hills and mountains in the distance look as if they are growing out of a silvery sea. Then the orange sands of the Namibia desert pounce upon the horizon and move like a glacier towards the dead-straight road that runs between Aus and Luderitz.

The road is certainly not devoid of life. Like South Africa, much of the land is, incredibly; farmed. This means that every now and again, cattle, goats and black-headed sheep can be seen. Then there are the stately Gemsbok standing under the shade of some lone acacia tree or striding through a shimmering landscape. Of course there's absolutely no chance of anything being farmed once you move past Aus and into the narrow corridor between the Namib-Naukluft desert and the Spergebiet: the harsh desert that holds one of the world's largest diamond deposits and which is 'verboten' to enter.

To put it bluntly, entering the desert is awe-inspiring. Traveling through the Northern Cape a few days ago, I pointed out the large number of churches that we saw. Standing in a desert, those of spiritual disposition could very well be forgiven for feeling that they are closer to God. Everything is harsh and beautiful simultaneously. The Namibia desert is the Northern Cape a hundred times over. It is vast and lonely. Listen carefully and you can hear God breathing.

Then in a blink of an eye it is over and the skeleton of a town jumps over the horizon and we're on top of Kolmanskop (Kolmanskuppe). The sand-blasted buildings pass by and we descend through rocky folds of sandstone and quartz to the small, incredibly German, harbor town of Luderitz. The town itself feels like it's on the wrong continent. European - German in particular - architecture lines the streets. German spoken by the locals mixes with the French, Dutch and English of the tourists. The whole town seems like an idiosyncrasy.

Of course the reason we're visiting this small town is to spend some time in one of the world's photographic bucket-list sites, the ghost town of Kolmanskop. Considering the amount of images I have seen of this small place, I was expecting to see hordes of photographers flowing around the weathered buildings, a La the ruins in Peru perhaps. Not so. Armed with our little pink photographers permit Nick and I ventured out into the dusty abandoned streets completely on our own. We had the buildings completely to ourselves for a solid two hours before a single tourist drove up and similarly started wandering through the remnants of houses.

Kolmanskop isn't particularly old, but the desert has worn it down and beaten it into a wreck of dwellings, a school, hospital, factories and the like. The sand devours the buildings inch by inch, pouring slowly through doorways  and windows. The wind whipped sand scrapes against window frames and staircases eroding everything it whistles past. It's a veritable photographers playground. There is something photogenic everywhere you look.

Of course because it is a playground for photographers there is nary a single room that doesn't already bear the footprints of previous visitors. Nick latched on quickly to the cleanup necessary for images by throwing sand into the air and letting it settle over the evidence of previous visitors. Brilliant idea. I just wish that I had thought of it before the incredible dawn light slid round door frames and onto peeled paint walls.

The solitude was there once more when we returned for the evening shoot. The light was completely different, softer and more rounded without the warmth but still with a wonderful subtlety that complemented the sands as they slowly submerge the buildings. Sitting in the dark as the cameras captured the traveling stars above the desert, the emptiness again seems to fill your entire imagination. It is awe-inspiring. Beautiful. Stark. Lonely. Vast. The desert meets the sky with the only sound being a gentle brush of wind across the sand and the creaking of a loose roof sheet against a derelict building.

Nick is sharing his images on the www.facebook.com/tailormadesafaris page. You can check in there to see some more of what we have been up to. Now the next mammoth trek between Luderitz and Windhoek to meet Preeti and Prashant who will be joining us on the next leg of the journey.

To read about the first part of the Namibia Landscape Recce go to this link: From The Ocean to The Quiver Trees - Part 1 of the Namibia Landscape Workshop Recce

To continue with part 3 of the Recce at Spitzkoppe read this page:The Fiery Monolith - Part 3 of the Namibia Workshop Recce

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