2014 Travel Photographer of the Year, Gary Arndt has visited all seven continents and over 140 countries and territories around the world. He recently spent some time in Namibia and we managed to get him to sit still long enough to give us his top tips for capturing Namibia on film.
Tell us about your most unforgettable moment while shooting in Namibia.
I wasn't actually shooting at the time, but it was when we drove down the Long Wall. 100m straight down a giant dune with the ocean at the bottom! I had my hands firmly on the dashboard holding on for dear life. As I later learned, no matter how large the dune, they have pretty much the same degree of steepness. Driving down a large dune isn't that much different than driving down a smaller one.
Every destination has its challenges and rewards; how does Namibia compare to other places you’ve photographed?
I have always found deserts to be fascinating places and some of my favorite to photograph. The incredible dunes in the Namib are unlike anything I've seen anywhere else in the world. They are big and dramatic regardless if you view them from the ground or in the air. The challenge of shooting in the desert is the sand. It gets everywhere and it can cause problems with electronics, especially with sensors in digital cameras.
Which 3 photos shot in Namibia are you most proud of and why?
It is very hard to pick just 3. But I'll go with the following:
1) A solitary tree at sunset.
During our first night camping along the Kuiseb River, our campground was marked by the only tree we saw above the river bottom during our entire trip. I managed to get this shot of the tree just minutes before sunset.
2) Damara boy smiling.
For our two days of adventure, I joined the trip going to Twyfelfontein in Damaraland. During one of our stops we visited a Damara village and I took this photo of a young man who was in a very good mood.
3) Aerial view of sand dunes.
During the conference I took a short break to fly over the dunes on a two hour flight from Swakopmund. It was an incredible experience and something I recommend that everyone do if you can.
When going on a Namibian photographic expedition, what is your equipment of choice? And what do you never leave home without?
Unlike most photographers, I don't have a home. I am traveling continuously and I have to carry my gear with me wherever I go. For that reason, I have to pack extremely light.
My primary camera body is a Nikon D300s. I carry 3 lenses with me: an 18-20mm VR, a 12-24mm wide angle and a 50mm f/1.4. I usually will use the 18-200 as it is very versatile and will cover a wide range of shooting circumstances.
A photographer friend is desperate to capture the best of Namibia. What top 3 tips would you give them?
1) Be aware of the sand. Try to avoid swapping lenses while you are in the desert if you can. This is one region where you are better off bringing a separate body so you don't have switch lenses.
2) Seek out the people. I found Namibia to be a much more diverse place than I expected. I had the pleasure of meeting some people in Damaraland and some people in the German speaking community. I would love to return and meet some of the Himba people as well people from the other tribal groups in the country.
3) It is big country. I really only scratched the surface of Namibia. I was there for a conference, so I didn't get to explore as much of the country as I would have liked. Be prepared to drive long distances. If possible, take a flight over the dunes as it gives you very different perspective of the landscape.
More Photographer Tips
This part of a series of blog post interviews with professional photographers on how to Capture Namibia. Every week we'll be posting tips, tricks and amazing photographs from these impressive photographers.
Follow us to get the latest in the Capture Namibia series:
In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.
Are you one of those people who like to pick up a bit of the local lingo when you travel? Do you pack a phrasebook and attempt to order your lunch in the native language? Do you like to greet people on the street? Well, in Namibia that might be a little harder than you think...
Namibia's San, Damara and Nama people speak what are recognised as some of the world's most ancient and complicated languages. Even the linguistically blessed are likely to struggle getting their mouths around these words - as not only are they unrelated to other languages outside southern Africa - they involve speaking with clicks! Here's a mini guide to help you out with some of the world's most complex phonetics.
A Quick Guide to Namibia's Click Languages
Namibia's Damara and Nama people speak Khoekhoe, while the San, also known as the Bushmen, speak various related languages, depending on the tribe. Khoekhoe has four click sounds, written |, ǂ, ! and ||, but even speakers of this language are baffled by the San - who use at least seven clicks! Even worse, getting your clicks mixed up spells trouble, as the same word with a different click has a completely different meaning.
hara = swallow
!hara = check out
|hara = dangle
ǂhara = repulse
Yikes! Fortunately for visitors, English is Namibia's official language so you won't have to master the world's most complex tongue! However, if you are up for a bit of a challenge, we've found some tutorials that might help you, or at least give you a bit of an insight into what Namibia sounds like:
Learn how to write and pronounce the Khoekhoe clicks:
Count to ten in Khoekhoe:
Listen to the San:
Facts about click languages and their speakers:
In Namibia, there are around 100,000 Damara, 60,000 Nama and 27,000 San, so you are sure to hear their languages on your travels!
- It was suggested that the clicks developed as a way for hunters to communicate across the savannah - when spoken quietly the clicks sound less like speech and more like a broken branch, whih is less likely to disturb prey.
The languages are considered so complex because the clicking sounds are made at the same time as the consonant sounds, so you have to train your mouth to do two things at once!
Khoekhoe is a national language in Namibia. Many schools use it, and some universities teach in Khoekhoe.
Meet the Damara and San at a Living Culture Museum, to learn more about their language as well as their culture and traditions.
Take a township tour in Mondesa, Swakopmund, to meet Damara and Nama residents and have an introduction to Khoekhoe in their home.
Stay at a joint venture lodge in Damaraland, such as Damaraland Camp. The Damara community members who manage the lodges have formed their own choirs - composed of managers, chefs and waiting staff! They entertain guests upon arrival and at mealtimes with the most wonderful songs - sung with clicks, of course.
There is an old African proverb which states: "If an old man dies in Africa, a whole library burns to the ground”. This proverb refers to the oral nature of the cultures on the African continent. The ancient traditional knowledge has not been written down in books, but is passed on orally from one generation to the next. His knowledge is saved in the cultural memory of the people. Without a circulation within the respective language group, this knowledge is forgotten and might be lost forever. Namibia's Living Culture Museums strive to capture and preserve this knowledge for future generations.
Five museums, described below, are currently located throughout the country and tell the amazing story of some of Namibia's most iconic cultural groups.Museums featuring the Ovahimba and Khwe are currently in the works. These museums are instrumental in passing down traditional skills and values, as the children of the groups are actively involved in the activities of the museum. !Gamace N!aici from the Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/‘Hoansi points out, "When the visitors come to see our culture, they learn but our kids learn as well. That is very important for our culture."
The museums, funded and developed by the Living Culture Foundation of Namibia, not only preserve the different cultures but also give the groups an opportunity to earn an income and benefit from tourism. Travelers can visit a Living Museum and thus actively contribute to the preservation of traditional culture in Namibia. The local population is responsible for the development of the museums content and manage the operations. Proceeds from the museums benefit the local community.
The Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi was inaugurated in 2004 and has developed into a cultural highlight of Namibia. The main focus lies with getting to know the hunter-gatherer culture of the Kalahari San. On the same level guest have the opportunity to learn how the Ju/‘Hoansi-San traditionally light fire, make tools and weapons, and much, much more.
In 2008 the Living Museum of the Mafwe opened in the Caprivi Strip. The Mafwe concentrate mainly on fishing and agricultural activities but also present traditional dancing ceremonies in their museum situated under huge Baobab trees.
Together with the Bushmen the Damara belong to the oldest nations in Namibia. Their original culture was a mixture of an archaic hunter-gatherer culture and herders of cattle, goats and sheep. Here the visitors have the unique opportunity to get to know the fascinating traditional culture of the Damara, thus contributing to the preservation of the culture as well as to a regular income for the Damara community that built the museum.
In 2010 the The Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi opened in the Tsumkwe region, where the San are still allowed to hunt. Here the traditional bow hunt with poisoned arrows, the digging out of spring hares and porcupines, the snare catching of guinea fowls, khoraans and other birds for the daily hunt for food has never been terminated. Visitors have the unique experience of learning the art of reading tracks and participating in a hunt.
After three years of initial building-up work the newest edition to the Living Museums finally opened at the end of October 2011: Mbunza Living Museum. An essential part of the interactive program of the Living Museum is the demonstration (and preservation) of the fishing and land cultivating culture of the Mbunza. The traditional presentation covers everything from everyday life (traditional cuisine, fire making, basket and mat weaving, etc.) to bushwalks and fishing and finally to highly specialised techniques like blacksmithing, pottery and the making of drums.
, Twyfelfontein (meaning "doubtful fountain"), is a massive, open air art gallery. With over 2,000 rock engravings, Twyfelfontein represent one of the largest and most important rock art concentrations in Africa. In June 2007 this striking natural red-rock gallery of tumbled boulders, smooth surfaces and history etched in stone was awarded World Heritage Site status, making it Namibia’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site to date.
The engravings are estimated to be up to 6,000 years old, and it is believed by many that their creators were San medicine people or shamans, who created their engravings as a means of recording the shaman’s experience among the spirits while in a trance. Among the most celebrated of the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein are a giant giraffe, a "lion man" with a hand at the end of its tail, and a dancing kudu.
35 percent of the revenue received from tourism through entrance fees at the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site is shared with members of the local community to help them meet their basic needs. As a result, not only do tourists to the area benefit from local insight; local people are also made aware of the importance of preserving their cultural heritage for long-term benefit.
Such culture heritage preservation can be found at the nearby Living Museum of the Damara. This traditional Damara project is the only one of its kind, and the possibility to experience the traditional Damara culture in this form exists nowhere else in Namibia or in the world. Here the visitors have the unique opportunity to get to know the fascinating traditional culture of the Damara, thus contributing to the preservation of the culture as well as to a regular income for the Damara community that built the museum.
Learn more about Namibia’s unique cultures here.