The Addo elephant – an inspirational coincidence

Last week we spent a day at Addo Elephant National Park and, just as we were leaving at sunset, we saw a lone bull elephant striding up over the horizon.  The misty Suurberg ridges rising up beyond the Sundays River valley made a lovely dramatic backdrop to his silhouette.

Addo Elephant coming out of the sunset

I got to wondering what would happen to my picture if I draped it like a tablecloth over a three dimensional elevation model of the Addo area – showing the elephant embedded on the landscape it lives in.  It wasn’t easy to get the image looking aesthetically pleasing and on the right part of the landscape but here’s the result.

Elephant and Addo landscape

It’s coincidental because I was also using my geographical skills last week working with a 3D model of the Port Elizabeth area. I suddenly wondered if I could get something much more evocative using the elephant picture instead!

Relief Model of the Port Elizabeth area

Aloes, webs and cosmos

There will probably be autumn mist tomorrow morning, our host at Tsitsa Falls backpackers (Adrian Badenhorst) told us around the camp fire, you often get them when a hot day follows.  He was right.  The whole Tsitsa valley was dark with mist at sunrise but it soon began to clear as the sun burned through.

Mist in the Tsitsa valley

The backpackers is on the site of an old Transkei border trading post so it was surrounded by big banks of krantz aloes.  They were already beginning to flower and during the day attracted beautiful malachite sunbirds.  This morning, though, the mist gave an unusual backdrop for a photo shoot of the spider webs.

Old trading store

Unusual because there’s no background to the pictures I shot.  I was on the hillside looking down into the mist and far below you could just make out the bridge over the river.  In the distance was the muted roar of the big waterfall.  In the foreground spiders’ webs arched gracefully between the conical aloe flowers.

Further down the bank, beside the drainage ditch, there were entanglements of cosmos.  Most of the flowers were gone and the spiders had made delicate webs between the dead heads remaining.

Once the sun had come out I took a walk down the valley and went behind the waterfall.  A short scramble through the rocks below and you get a fantastic swim in the pool wreathed in clouds of spray from the falls.  A stunning place to visit.

Behind the falls



Iceland panoramas

iceland Panoramas
Iceland has such a big dramatic landscape that you struggle to fit it into a regular sized photograph.  I tried a number of panoramic shots when we were there in the summer of 2013 and I’ve recently come across them again whilst reorganising my photo files – so I’ve done some touching up on them.  My camera doesn’t have a fancy piece of software to make a panorama so these are all made from separate, overlapping, frames stitched together using DoubleTake.  It wasn’t a sunny road trip and it was very windy sometimes so these shots were snatched whenever it was possible.  The top image in the composite is looking north at 11pm watching the sun dipping slowly towards the horizon.  We were up in North-West Iceland at Skagafjörður.  The middle image is the view of Borgarnes just as you enter the town from the west.  The bottom image shows clouds peeling off the icecap at Snæfellsþjökull.

Lenticular clouds above þjðrsa river

On our first drive out east from Reykjavik it was so windy I had to hang on to a fence to stay still enough for the five images in this panorama.  The winds blowing of the Atlantic produced these spectacular lenticular clouds forming in the lee of the Vatnajökull ice cap.

Loose leaves from Kenya

Sitting on the shelf in my studio are four stamp albums.  Three of them belonged to my Dad and the other belongs to Helen.  He gave her these albums and I have them all for safekeeping.

The post’s called loose leaves because in Dad’s ‘swops and to be included’ album are a few Kenyan stamps lying loose.  This got me wondering whether they were on the letters I sent Mum shortly before he died in 1994. Maybe I had sent her more afterwards?  I really couldn’t remember.  Perhaps they were meant for Helen’s album that was started in 1990 when we were on sabbatical leave in Durham and my Dad got her interested in collecting stamps?

First, though, I had a good look at the stamps in the Kenya section of my Dad’s ‘world’ album.  This is a good old-fashioned ring bound ‘Liberty Postage Stamp Album’ dating  from the 1950s.  A clue to that comes on page 75 where the section for Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika describes them as a ’A British Colony and Protectorate in East Africa’.

Title page

Title page

Page 75

Page 75

Dad, being the thrifty person he was, used the old computer printout sheets I had given him on which to attach stamps I sent.  These came on my regular (weekly) letters to him and Mum, I would also include any stamps that I’d saved for him.

Plants and 'specials'

Plants and ‘specials’

It’s quite remarkable to see the stamps that I’d purchased, watched torn off their sheet, then licked and stuck down on an envelope and, lastly, seen being franked on the heavy wooden counter of the post office.  And where were the post offices?

In the early 1980s the main Nairobi post office was located at the top of Kenyatta Avenue.  I vividly remember going there immediately after Helen and Jeannie were born (in Nairobi Hospital) to send telegrams home to Mum and Dad giving them the good news:

’17 Sanctus Road Stop Stratford-Upon-Avon Stop England Stop Helen Elizabeth born 25 Feb Mother and Daughter doing well Stop Rod’

’17 Skipton Road Stop Embsay Stop Skipton-in-Craven Stop England Stop Jean Mary born 10 April Mother and Daughter doing well Stop Rod’

It was there that we bought stamps and posted letters, aerogrammes and Christmas cards.  Parcels from relatives in England were also collected once you’d received the notification that something has arrived – you always hoped there was no duty to pay!

Not surprisingly you can see the franking ‘Nairobi’ on a good number of the stamps.  Another one I expected to see was KenyaWestlands – because we shopped in Westlands regularly and sure enough it’s there – along with Ruiri from the time we lived out on Ruera coffee estate from 1983-5.  They’re both found in the bottom row of flowers stamps.  Elsewhere on these pages you can make out stamps franked Lower Kabete, Malindi, Mombasa and Machakos. In the page below you can see the green Tourmaline 2/- stamp that was always a favourite of mine as was the purple 1/- Amethyst.

Rocks and minerals

Rocks and minerals

The looseleaf stamps almost certainly postdated 1994.   They were probably sent to me in South Africa and I will have sent them on to Mum.  On the 10/- Cinnamon-chested Bea-eater I can make out the Thika postmark so this was probably sent by a Kenyatta University colleague or friend from the coffee estates around there.  The 50/- Yellow-Billed Hornbill is post marked Gigiri so I’m pretty sure this came from Backson Sibanda, a former PhD student,  who was working at the UNEP headquarters there.  Unfortunately I can’t make anything out from the 100/- Hadeda Ibis stamps.

The last stamps are on an aerogramme sent to me on 30 June 1997 by David Roden. He was running the Marich Pass field centre in West Pokot.  I’d recently visited him – it was a memorable trip – and he was writing to acknowledge receipt of the geological reports I had sent.


Aerogrammes had four panels and three folds, you wrote your letter and then folded them up and sealed them with small flaps along the side.  If I remember rightly they were cheaper than letters!

Atlas of Kenya: Ethnic Distributions slideshow

Way back in 1990 I went on sabbatical leave to St Mary’s College, Durham University, and produced an Atlas of Kenya.  I specifically wanted to map where ethnic groups lived at independence (1963) and where they lived in 1979 at the end of President Kenyatta’s government.

I used the 1962 and 1979 population censuses to do this. Dai Morgan of Durham University, and formerly Head of Geography at the University of Nairobi, was an invaluable help with the 1962 census data and maps from that date.  I had managed to collect similar maps and census information for the 1979 census when lecturing at Kenyatta University in the early 1980s.  South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) funded me as I managed to persuade them that it would be interesting to see what happened in post-colonial Kenya with a view to thinking similar trends would happen here in South Africa.  Lastly Joan Kenworthy kindly hosted us at St Mary’s and we had a memorable six months there.

I’ve been able to put the maps into a slideshow – something that was impossible in 1990-1 when we worked on the Atlas.  Then we used very early Geographic Information Systems technology to digitise the maps, manually adding in all of the data and plotting the 80 maps (using pens) on an A0 sized HP plotter. The maps and final report produced for the HSRC can be downloaded from the links below.  What’s more interesting is to let the slideshow load and then see the patchwork of different ethnic groups (Kenyans would say Tribes) and how they spread after independence.

The slideshow is large (75mb) so needs quite a lot of time to load if you are on a slow internet connection but you can also download it.  It’s best viewed full screen at High Definition.

Ethnic Kenya 1962-1979 Vol-1 Report

Ethnic Kenya 1962-1979 Vol-2 Atlas

Cover Concept for ‘The Cull’

I’ve been working on some cover concepts for Harry Owen’s upcoming collection ‘The Cull: new and resurrected poems’.  It’s taken a while to get to the finished product but now both Harry and Amitabh Mitra, who’s publishing it through the Poets Printery, are very enthusiastic about this one.

The Cull: full cover

The basis for the cover is a picture of Harry taken in front of the fig tree in his Grahamstown garden.

Harry Owen

I wanted to show him literally embedded in nature – that reflects the subject of this collection of poems – and experimented with Adobe Photoshop Mix on my iPad. I selected a couple of pictures from earlier this year when I went to the Maasai Mara and superimposed them over him so that the textures mixed together. Amitabh had suggested that I used some red in the cover so I added a garish sunset as the final layer.

I mirrored the final image so that it could act as both the front and back covers and then added borders and text.

Covers front and back

Covers front and back

We had worked earlier with the same idea but using a landscape image for the front cover – that’s what’s shown in the slideshow here – but rejected that as the book will be in the standard portrait style with dimensions of 3 x 4.

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I really like the way the elephant’s trunk and tusk merge with Harry’s face in this one.  There’s plenty more animals too – giraffes, vultures and a hyena!