Behind The Shot: Amapondo #10

Pondoland, South Africa

Hasselblad H4D, 1⁄320 sec., ƒ/10, ISO 100, Elinchrom softbox

It was the end of the summer, and I was driving along the south coast of South Africa. The international success of my previous exhibition, “Sign of Life,” had left me in the enviable position of not having to work for a couple of years, but, in truth, I was suffering from “second album syndrome,” and I felt bereft of any concrete ideas regarding a new visual narrative to follow it up. I stayed the night in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, and over breakfast, I read a news report of a fatal shark attack on a 71-year-old Austrian tourist farther up the coast in Port St. Johns.

In the background of the pictures that accompanied the news report stood a large bull that was seemingly oblivious to the drama going on around him. I was immediately struck by the graphic power of the huge beast standing on the wet sand with the shimmering cobalt Indian Ocean forming a backdrop. It was unexpected, absurd even, but I found the scene strangely moving. I decided to drive up to investigate.

The community of Port St. Johns is made up primarily of a sub-branch of the Xhosa tribe, the Pondo, and the surrounding area is known as Pondoland. The cattle herds of the Pondo people are more than just a source of labour and food; they’re inextricably interwoven into the fabric of Pondo existence. An elaborate vocabulary has evolved that the Pondo people employ to express their feelings, both about the value of their cattle, and their aesthetic responses to the grace and beauty of these animals. Traditionally, the cattle herds have been kept close to home after nightfall in a central byre, or kraal, surrounded by the huts of the people who care for them.

Released from the kraal at sunrise, the animals make their way to one of the most shark-infested beaches on earth in the afternoon to cool off in the gentle sea breeze. Following a comprehensive survey of the locale with my assistants, we decided to work at the beach known locally as Second Beach. Cattle arrived sporadically throughout the day, requiring a number of exposure strategies.

From a technical point of view, Amapondo presented some issues, firstly, in terms of the dynamic range; a number of compromises needed to be made that involved decisions on over- or underexposing certain elements of the composition or filling the subject with electronic flash. The area has some amazing cloud formations, depending on the season, but often the sky would be a featureless blue for days. Some days, the cattle wouldn’t show or the beach would be full of tourists.

Amapondo #10 was the first print to sell from the series. A quick, low-powered burst of strobe light through a medium-sized Elinchrom softbox held camera-right on an extension pole by my assistant fills out the detail in the dark subjects, whilst the exposure in-camera was based on the sky, preserving the detail of the wispy cloud formation so common in Pondoland in summertime.

This image is from Christopher Rimmer‘s exhibition, “Amapondo,” which opens April 24 at Artexpo New York. See more of his work at www.christopherrimmer.com, and follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/christopher.rimmer3 and Instagram at instagram.com/christopher_rimmer.