NAMIBIA
EXTRAORDINARY AFRICA

PHOTOGRAPHY

Since I was a child, I loved to watch National Geographic documentaries. I never imagined I would be one day part of making one... 

It was October when I received that phone call from Tanguy Dumortier, a wildlife documentary filmmaker, producer of  "Le Jardin Extraordinaire" the most famous nature show of the Belgian TV. He was proposing me to join him on a trip to Namibia to work as still photographer and assistant during the shooting of a documentary focusing on 'the colours of Africa'.

To my surprise, the crew would only consists of the two of us. That meant that beyond my role of photographer, I'd had to be a sort of  'jack-of-all-trades', going from camera assistant, 4x4 driver, timelapse dude and even cook (sometimes). 

The following story is a glimpse of our 22 days shoot in Namibia illustrated with the photographs I took along the way.  

TITLE: Teaser of "Extraordinary Africa", directed by Tanguy Dumortier
MY ROLE: Still Photographer in Namibia

TIME OF YOUR LIFE REQUIRED: 1 Min 30 Sec
KEYWORDS: #Wildlife #Africa #Adventure #Desert


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TANGUY LOOKING FOR A SHOT IN THE CLAY PAN OF DEADVLEI GIVES A SENSE OF SCALE TO THE SAND DUNES BEHIND HIM. 

The film was part of a 6 episodes series of 22 minutes called "Extraordinary Africa". Tanguy had already shot footage in central Africa and our mission in Namibia was to get about 10 minutes of edited material, focused on desert and savana.

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DIRECTOR TANGUY DUMORTIER (RIGHT) AND MYSELF ON TOP OF DUNE 45

"I never had done any wildlife documentary before, and I soon realized how different the process is from portaying humans."

 

Our days would generaly start an hour before sunrise, having a coffee and gear up to catch the morning lights and fresh temperatures.


At midday, we'd generally hide from the heat and harsh light, downloading memory cards, planning the next days, and drinking liters of beer. Then, at the end of the afternoon, we'd shoot again until sunset. 

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Dune 7 is the highest dune in Namibia with a height of 383 meters

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In this close up, only the grains of sand give you a size reference.

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a horse rider passes by at sunset

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The shiny white of the salty floor of the Deadvlei pan.

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The harsh light and terrible midday heat at Namib-Naukluft National Park

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Deadvlei used to be an oasis with several acacia trees.

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Deadvlei is punctuated by blackened, dead acacia trees.

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Deadvlei is a particularly fascinating, surrealistic landscape. A joy to photograph.

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Closer to the sea in the west the sand appears whiter, whereas moving inland the sand becomes pinker in colour.

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WIND AND SAND ARE THE BIGGEST ENEMY FOR OUR CAMERA GEAR. SANDWICH HARBOUR REGION, NAMIBIA. 

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Sossuvlei is surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world, reaching up to 380 meters. A challenge when you have to carry camera equipment. 

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Our 4x4 was equipped with a roof tent, but we always tried to stay awake as late as we could as the Namibian night skies are amongst the most pristine in the world.

The arid condition of Namibia surprisingly supports a wide number of plants and animals that have adapted to survive, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. One of them is the Social Weaver bird who build enormous nests that are perhaps the most spectacular structures built by any bird.

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The Social Weaver birds found in Namibia build huge community nests in trees or even telephone poles.

This 'bird apartment complex' has multiple entry holes giving access to a chamber where birds live together and eggs are incubated. 

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Social Weaver keep working on the nest all year long and over generation of birds. Some nests have been found to be over 100 years old and thriving

After a few days in the region of Sossusvlei we arrived in the small settlement of Solitaire that merely consists of a gas station, a shop, a chapel and a bakery with a café. The café is strangely known for its apple strudel.

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CAR WRECK NEAR SOLITAIRE, NAMIBIA

Stopping at Solitaire is mandatory as it is the only gas station between the Sossusvlei dunes and the Walvis Bay coast, a 300+km journey.

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Solitaire gas station.

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FROM THE SMALL AIRCRAFT WE HIRED, WE CAN SEE HOW THE WINDBLOWN DUNES OF THE NAMIB DESERT LITTERALLY FALL INTO THE THE ATLANTIC OCEAN 

"Hiring a small aircraft to capture the breathtaking landscapes of the Namib desert from the sky, was certainly one of the highlight of our trip."

The pilot accepted to remove the passenger's door to avoid nasty light reflections while shooting. This made the whole experience even more immersive and impressive as heavy wind and noise invaded the cabin during the entire flight.

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Shooting from an airplane is more difficult than from an helicopter, but it's also much cheaper. The day before, we had a pre-flight briefing with the pilot to determine our route with precision. 

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An ocean of dunes. The namib desert seen from our cessna

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Heavy Rain showers can be seen in the horizon.

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other-worldly landscapes

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The red colour coming from iron oxide which coats the sand of the region, contrasts with the green of an isolated tree.

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Several salt pans are skatering the desert

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Abandonned mining settlements in the middle of nowhere.

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On skeleton coast, huge cliffs of sand formed where the desert meets the ocean.

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A VARIETY ANIMAL SPECIES CAN BE FOUND ROAMING SOSSUSVLEI, INCLUDING OSTRICHES, ANTELOPES, RODENTS AND BIRDS.

Being a two men crew, we had to be self suficient and capable of doing everything required to capture the videos and photos we needed but also, simply to get from point A to point B safely. 

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WRONG DIRECTION

"We moved to Cape Cross, a breeding reserve for thousands of Cape Fur Seals" 

Being December, it was peak breeding season and as many as 200,000 fur seals could be present at the rookery during this time. 

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"One thing that the pictures can't depict, is the smell. Nothing personal. It’s just that seals…, really stink."

Named for the grief that afflict shipping on Namibia's unforgiving Atlantic coast, the Skeleton Coast is the name given to the country's far north-west corner. 

"Numerous maritime remains and ghosts of sailors litter the Skeleton Coast and with each shipwreck engulfed in sand, goes a story of men defying nature.

Spoiler alert: Nature always wins in the end.

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SHIP WRECK, SKELETON COAST, NAMIBIA

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THE ZEILA STRANDED ON 25 AUGUST 2008 IN NEAR "DIE WALLE" ABOUT 14KM SOUTH OF HENTIES BAY.

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Abandonned oil rig near Toscanini, on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. Today it provides a nesting area for birds.

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THE MESMERIZING SPECTACLE OF A GROUP OF GIRAFFES FOLLOWED BY THEIR SHADOW IN THE SUNSET LIGHT

We ended the journey in the Etosha National Park home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds and reptiles, including endangered species such as the black rhinoceros.

"It had exceptionally rained during the last few days, meaning animals wouldn't need to gather around waterholes and their observation would be more difficult for us"

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THE ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK, NAMIBIA

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i find girafes so beautiful, it's really hard to choose which pictures to publish

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©Jean-Marc Joseph

We were slowly driving, both alert, watchful for any noise or movement of animals, when suddenly, without warning, he appeared from behind a bush: the impressive black rhino. We didn't see him and now he was there, way closer than the safe distance.

"The rhino looked at us and behaved as he was going to charge. I was naively taking pictures when Tanguy shouted at me: "Drop the damn camera and drive!" We left.

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The black rhino a second before I dropped the camera to flee as he charged.

"The general rule for any African safari is that you stay in your vehicle at all times. No matter if you are there for professional reasons, there are no exceptions"

Another emotional encounter occured that one afternoon when we were driving back to our camp site. He was there, in the golden sunset light, moving slowly; a magestuous lonely elephant. It was an old specimen, covered in dry mud, both his tusks had been broken.

"We had to go as the park was closing and we could have problems with the rangers, but this creature was hypnotizing. I put down the camera and looked at him directly, to feel that ephemeral moment as I could listen to his breath and how he chew the branches from a shrub. And then we left. Again."

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an old, majestuous elephant was there, near the gravel road

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The dried mud in the sunset light only made this creature look like a giant moving statue.

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Tanguy didn't know it yet while we were shooting in Namibia, but after he'd finished his 6 episodes series, "Extraordinary Africa" would be bought by National Geographic and broadcasted in more than 100 countries. 

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FULL MOON AT ETOSHA NATIONAL RESERVE, NAMIBIA ©Jean-Marc Joseph

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Phone: +34 679 75 56 40
Email: jm@superjeanmarc.com