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Deadvlei

Simon Harrison reports from Namibia

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Simon Harrison

Imaging satellite engineer with a penchant for travel and landscape

simonharrisonphotography.com



Under cover of darkness we left the tarmac of the road and embarked on a ten kilometre stretch of sand in the direction of Sossusvlei. My wife was slightly anxious. I’d never driven a 4x4 off road before, let alone in deep sand, in a Namibian desert, at night, and she knows full well how driven I am in getting pictures and that I'll generally do whatever it takes in order to get them. The headlight beams bounced around the terrain ahead as we bounded and skidded over the undulations and across furrows made by the previous day’s vehicles. The road (although you can hardly call it that) was empty of traffic but for us. We were a hundred kilometres from Sesriem, the nearest town, and deep within the Namib desert. It’s only been possible to build access to this place by virtue of a natural corridor between the dunes which has formed over millennia, and is big enough to be visible from space. The few-hundred-metre high piles of sand on either side are kept at bay by an underground river; beyond them, all around for hundreds of miles, lay the sea of red dunes of the Namib. The engine growled as I fought to keep up the Toyota's momentum through the deepest areas of sand, the steering wheel often oriented in a different direction to the one we were moving in.



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  • LShepherd

    Beautiful and varied images here, Simon and very nicely complemented by your eloquent style of writing.
    This caught my eye as we are just looking into a possible Namibia trip in December. We were there for a week 15 years ago – only went to Etosha, Damaraland and Swakopmund in that time – but we’ve always wanted to go back.
    Of course I’m familiar with images of Deadvlei and yes, I will be going there – not sure if my husband is as patient as your wife though! ;-) I don’t believe I’ve seen it with mist before and this definitely adds something. I’ll need to look at all your Namibia images in more details but, after an initial viewing, I feel ‘Reach’ is one of your most striking. They are all lovely, though, and I will take a better look at your flickr site in due course.
    Out of interest, did you get mist again on your second morning there?
    Thanks for the article, Lizzie

    • Hi Lizzie – I knew mist was possible having seen a few pictures of Deadvlei with it, but I didn’t dare hope of being lucky enough to get some. As it turned out, we had mist on both mornings. The first was like very low cloud draped over all the dunes giving just a hint of blue sky behind. The second morning it was different, there was a band of low mist drifting about at the back of the pan. I think I was very lucky but having spoken to some locals they say it’s not that rare to find in the winter months (May-July). Btw I have one big tip if you want to photograph Sossusvlei and/or Deadvlei at sunrise: you must stay inside the park. Unfortunately the main (outer) park gates only open at sunrise and close at sunset. At sunrise a great big queue of vehicles line up and race to be there first… solitude is not likely! We stayed at Sossus Dune Lodge, run by the Namibian wildlife parks organisation NWR, which is super expensive (£300/nt) but gives you unrestricted access to the park at any time once inside. (They also serve rather tasty Eland and Kudu steaks. Apologies any vegetarians!) The only other option is Sesriem campsite but I hear if you stay there you can still only enter the park 1/2 hour before all the folks waiting at the outer gate. In both cases, you obviously need a 4×4 for access (and it’s approx 1 hr drive from the gates to Deadvlei). Cheers, Simon.

      • LShepherd

        Thanks for the info Simon – trying to work out how we can make the most of our time without running up a horrendous bill! On the culinary front, I seem to remember we came to the conclusion that Namibia was not the best destination for vegetations but I dare say things have changed ;-) Really hope we can sort out a trip for December in any case – I think/hope places like Sossusvlei will be a wee bit less busy then… Thanks again, Lizzie

        • LShepherd

          Sorry – for ‘vegetations’ read ‘vegetarians! Brain and fingers out of sync yet again…

  • Nigel

    ” I couldn’t help smiling at that fact, and of the wonderful experience we alone had had that morning”
    This is one of the main driving forces in my own photography…it’s a priceless feeling to have & virtually impossible to convey to others. I can only imagine how you felt in such a place. Thanks for sharing, Nigel.

    • Thanks Nigel – the chance to experience these special places on one’s own is certainly a dwindling prospect these days what with the planet’s exponential population increase…. I went to Petra in Jordan back in early ’04 at the height of the 2nd Iraq war and without all the normal tourists it was nearly deserted. Another amazing place and quite special walking around there on our own.

  • Mike.D.Green

    I think you *have* succeeded in creating a set of images which are collectively unique in their vision of Deadvlei, Simon. I’ve long thought it a spectacular place – before I took up photography – but have not until now felt any wish to go there and photograph it, essentially because I imagined that it had all been done before and that it would be crawling with other tourists/photographers all the time. You’ve addressed both those objections very eloquently, though not the third one (cost!) which I shall cling on to ;-)

    Each of these images is very fine in its own right but as a collection they’re superb. That said, in particular I like ‘Reach’ very much indeed – that mist is the perfect backdrop – and ‘Letters’ which has a marvellous set of symmetries about it as well as an admirable simplicity and some delicate textures.

    Thanks for sharing both the images and the experience.

    Mike

    • Thanks Mike. Although I’ve focussed on Deadvlei there’s much more to see in the area. Just outside Sesriem is a dune called Elim which is full of life – tok tokkie beatles, weaver birds, huge green grasses taller than us. We liked it so much we went up there for sunset 3 times (resulting in images Elim, From Elim and Naukluft), and what’s more there were only a few people up there. There’s tons of potential for more images in the Namib, I’d love to go back.

  • Duncan Fawkes

    All I can say is “Wow”! Those images are wonderful Simon. I wasn’t familiar with Deadvlei before this so I’m not sure I have authority to comment, but I’m going to agree with Mike anyway – I think they’re a very original set with a strong sense of collectivity, and fantastic in their own right! Reach, Letters, Mist are my personal favourites. I also keep coming back to the red dune in the foreground of Naukluft. Seriously good work. Just added you on Flickr so expect a deluge of favourites! :)

    On your text, I totally get what you’re saying about “intimate”. Can’t remember if it was on his workshop or his blog, but Bruce Percy has referred to making “portraits of the landscape” which I think is an apt way of putting it.

    A classic landscape is there and can be interpreted differently, but you have somewhat limited latitude in its depiction to stay true to classic. With a “portrait”, it’s about how you feel about a place, how you connect with it, what it is that draws you in. In that sense, the image is as much about yourself as about the landscape itself.

    Great work.

    (and reflecting on the conservation article also in this issue I’m not having an internal argument about myself about the merits of going to Deadvlei myself!)

    • Hi Duncan – ‘portraits of the landscape’ is a great way of putting it. A lot of the time, it’s just little things that pique my interest that I happen to spot, and if I can work them into an image which has simplicity, balance and cohesiveness then I’ve got a decent chance of making something interesting. I should be careful not to denigrate ‘classical’ landscapes – after all I still practice them – but for me, personally, I find it much harder to inject meaning into them. I guess it’s just the way I’ve learnt that I see the world, so in that way, at least, I suppose they reveal something about me. I’m a fan of Bruce Percy’s work btw, especially like his Glen Orchy series which inspired me to go up there last January gone. Wonder if Tim could get Bruce to write something for OL? ;¬)

  • Sean Lewis

    An excellent and evocative travel article that I enjoyed immensely. I find that your photography from the trip refreshing and original. I think you could give Franz Lanting a good run for his money here.
    Sean

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