On Being a Photographer - Part Four - About South African Colors

A couple of years ago, I shared a few thoughts on being a photographer. Some still ring true. Others have evolved. I tend to take pictures more often with my iPhone while I am travelling so that I can share them more easily with friends and family. Which doesn’t mean I am feeling like the careless tourists I described in one of my posts. Even when using my phone as a camera, I keep trying to take pictures I’ll be happy and sometimes even proud to share.

I still use my professional cameras and lenses. Of course. Much better definition and bigger files. This is very important if I ever decide to get some of the pictures exhibited in a gallery or published. Foresight, let’s say.

Taking pictures can still be a long process for me though.

I still remember the moment when leaving the MOMA in New York, I noticed reflections of Saint Thomas Church on a building across the street. I can’t remember why I did not take any pictures at the time. Probably because I had run out of film for my camera. I really felt frustrated for a while and I remember thinking: “I’ll be back. I have to come back!” One year later, I was back. First thing I did, I went to the MOMA. The reflections were still there of course, even better than the first time because the light was sharper. I took the pictures I had been turning over in my mind for twelve long months. I was very happy… and even happier when I was asked to exhibit three of them at the “Maison de la Radio” in Paris.

Sometimes my projects are best left in the pipeline because I honestly have no idea how they will evolve. Then I meet people, not necessarily other photographers and artists and we start talking about a thousand different ideas and there it happens. I suddenly know what I’ll be doing for a while.
I'll never forget the time when I got on a plane bound to Cape Town. I was carrying my cameras and lenses along. I kept thinking how silly this was. One small camera would have done the trick because I knew that this time, I would not be travelling essentially for pleasure. A huge part of this trip promised to be rather ghastly. At least that’s what I was thinking and believing while boarding.

And then… a miracle happened. And once again my life took another bend, maybe not the best one but one that should be very positive and get me places I felt I had to go back to without knowing how to reach them after such a long time.

Actually I was on my way to mend my life as a photographer. And I had no idea this would or could happen.

South Africa has sparked off an new awareness of color as such in me. Color had always played an important part in my earlier pictures of course but mainly as a medium to enhance or to emphasize what I was trying to express.

Thanks to the magnificent sceneries and the amazing light in South Africa, from the Western Cape to the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, color became vital, truly essential and even crucial in my work. I became aware of this profound change in my assessment of my surroundings after spending one week in Kruger Park. We had decided to go to Kruger mainly to fulfill a dream. I also wanted to try my hand at wildlife photography, a real challenge for me.

We had wonderful field guides and trackers and we did have incredible and very close encounters with lots of beautiful and impressive wild beasts . I took (a few) great pictures I am very proud of. But what really amazed me was that whenever I climbed aboard our safari car for a game drive, in the morning and in the afternoon, I never felt under stress about sighting the big five or not. I had fallen so much in love with the Kruger scenery and its infinite range of tones that I left the park with countless pictures of the bush and the trails illuminated by the morning or the evening sun rays or shrouded in mystery by cloudy skies.

In South Africa, it was a lot about getting the right settings to bring out the right hues and making the most of the magnificent light.

Now to make this story a little bit shorter… I have to tell you I have been an associate member of the “Société des Artistes Français” (The Academy of French Artists) ever since January 2004. Long story. I entered their yearly show at the Grand Palais in Paris for the first time in 2000 until 2012 when for personal reasons, I decided to stop exhibiting pictures for a while either at the Grand Palais or in galleries.

This year, on my way back from South Africa, at the end of my second trip there, I decided to present a new project to the jury (this is mandatory for “new” artists and associate members as well). I was determined to start exhibiting again in art galleries if my project was accepted in its entirety or even only partially. Time had come for action, I thought.

I did not procrastinate as usual. I sent a file to the jury. Four pictures which I arbitrarily called “South African Colors” and which were characteristic of my awakening to color as such. Choosing them was difficult because I tend to be very emotional about pictures I like. And there were so many pictures I loved from my two trips to South Africa.

There were the white sand dunes. Such a luminous whiteness highlighted by light green succulents below clear deep blue skies.

There was this early morning picture in Kruger Park. A long forgotten mossy-like water hole. Lifeless water. A very strange and forsaken place. A symphony of many green shades. A study in green, brown, blue and grey.


And the mountains close to Franschhoek. The ardent rusty-red laterite, the rugged greyish mountains, the intense blue cloudy skies and the vegetation, once again all shades of green.

Several weeks ago, I got a mail from the president of the photography department. The members of the jury have chosen one picture, the fourth one. At their request, it will be printed in a very large size. It then deserved a new title. I called it: “Vertigo, South Africa”. 

Not only because the conditions in which I took the picture were rather extreme. But mainly because South Africa does make me feel dizzy in many ways.

Almost at the center of the picture, one dark cormorant is flying very low over some dazzling white eddies. Exactly what I was hoping for, a cormorant with spread out wings and straight neck above the foam. The perfect shape and the most incredible contrast - black over white. The second cormorant on the right was a complete surprise. I discovered it after downloading the pictures on my computer. It is still diving below the emerald water and trailing behind him a thin streak of bubbles. The kind of picture you take without even realizing it can turn out this beautiful. Lucky day!

Showing “Vertigo, South Africa” in the Grand Palais in Paris, in February 2017, may well lead me to a new beginning as a photographer.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

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