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  • Through The Lens | South African Tourism and National Geographic

    At long last I can share with you the product of my work with South African Tourism last October when I was on assignment in Cape Town. This vignette is one of many in the Through The Lens series, which features National Geographic Photographers in regions of South Africa that match their photographic style. The minute-long features will run on the NG Channel throughout Europe and Asia.

    Filming with an amazing crew made up of many talented people from Cape Town, London and Paris was a fantastic experience for me, and the work offered me a thorough overview of the city before I set out on my own for another week of freelance shooting.

    Thanks again to my agents, Alice Keating and Sara Snider Papademetriou at National Geographic Assignment for sending me on this assignemnt, to Lindsay Rocke at NG Channel, Ian Utermohlen at SAT, and everyone of the great people who put this together. It was an experience I will never forget.

    - HP

  • More about the swimmers of Cape Town.

    Right. So. Let's get you all caught up. I've been out and about, beyond the borders of Cape Town city center with my trusty guide, Gui.

    I should start by saying that months ago I had the foresight to know that shooting a story in South Africa in a week would be impossible without someone who really knows this place and how to get around. The ins and outs. A fixer. I knew I needed one. I made some calls and sent some emails and found myself connected to Gui. I met him first thing Tuesday morning at my little loft apartment and we've been on the run ever since.

    In terms of guides / assistants / general Guy-Fridays, I have hit the lottery with Gui. He's waaaaayyyyy over qualified to be my assistant, but WOW am i taking full advantage of his skills and knowledge. It's been only three days of work together and he has helped me make some photographic dreams come true. Thanks, Gui!

    We spent Tuesday scouting locations for photo shoots with swimmers. Places where we could find cover from the wind, and dramatic and colorful back drops for images I've been dreaming of. Our trek took us to the sea side town of Muizenberg. Famous for a long sandy beach dotted with colorful little changing houses, no longer in use. Stunning. We cruised through other towns on the eastern side of the Cape Town / Table Mountain National Park peninsula. Each has a sea-pool or lido as they call them in the UK. I've always been attracted to these sites and have big plans for at least one of them later in the week.

     

    These beach towns are rustic and authentic. There are attractions for tourists here to be sure, but I get the sense that they haven't changed all that much in the last few decades. They remain the locales of sea side trains and of fishermen and the SA Navy and a wide array local fauna.

    Let's talk about the local fauna for a sec. Over the last few days and without trying very hard at all, I have seen African penguins, Hirax or Dassie (Hello cutie pie! Never seen one of these before!), seal, whale, baboon and an ostrich. I love you, Africa.

       

    What I haven't seen, but have heard much about, is the Great White Shark. Now this is a tricky thing to discuss, so please pay attention. The sea never has, does not now, and never will, belong to us. No. This is the domain of a remarkable array of marine creatures, mammals and fish alike, all with an important role to play in this dynamic ecosystem. The shark is known as a keystone predator - It has a very important job to do in that it is partly responsible for keeping the populations of species below it in the food chain in check. Sharks are amazing animals, perfectly adapted to do what they do. They are so good at it in fact, that they have changed very little in the last several thousand years. See: if it ain't broke don't fix it.

    As creatures who often wade into the sea, we humans open ourselves up to the opportunity to see and interact with the beings who live there. Of course as animals ourselves, we have a particular and ancient aversion to being eaten. Thus many of us come to the sea with a concern - will I be eaten by a shark?

    South Africa is bordered by two oceans - the Indian and the Atlantic. Somewhere east and a bit south of here, these two majestic water bodies collide. Both are home to a fantastic collection of marine animals. This is also an area with a high(er) concentration of sharks. Important to note is that this concentration is not as high as it once was, and is dwindling every day thanks to overfishing and careless fishing and other human misbehaviors.

    There's no other way to say it: There have been unfortunate incidents between humans and sharks here. The waters of False Bay which I am now exploring have been the setting for most of these. Human flesh is not a part of a shark's particular diet. But the more often these two animals meet, the higher the chance of a bad thing coming to pass. That said, you are still more likely, even here in Cape Town, to be killed in a car accident on your way to the seashore than you are to be bitten by a shark. But it does happen.

    And yet, we swim. I can only speak for myself when I say that when it comes to going in the water, I have to.

    So. We found a group of seniors who swim in the ocean off Fish Hoek every day of the year. Bathing suits, caps. No muss, no fuss, a bracing swim in the waves followed by hot coffee and laughter in a cafe on the beach. Delicious. 

    One of the most remarkable things about these ladies (and a few gents) is that they will go for their daily morning swim no matter what. No matter how the wind blows or how cold the sea gets, these folks (who we have lovingly come to call our "Grannies") walk down to the sea for their swim. They go, even when they have suffered a loss. In 2004, one of their own was taken by a White. A passerby witnessed the struggle, and her friends collected her swim cap from the water. It was devastating for them. 

    In the last few years the towns around False Bay have instituted a shark patrol program. There are men with binoculars perched high up on the hill, watching the crystal clear waters for sharks. There is a flag system that acts as a warning. When people come to the beach, they can look at the flag to see if there is a current warning. 

      

    When I asked Lorraine if it was hard to get back into the water after this event, she said simply: Yes. It was. But, we want to have our swim. There is a resolute strength and centeredness in her answer. She is glowing and full of  grace. They all are. The laugh and smile as they play in the waves. She and her peers believe in this morning ritual. They believe in the benefits it brings them physically and mentally. Believe in the power of these cold waters on their well being.

    So I spent yesterday morning in the surf with these lovely Grannies, followed by a coffee in a seaside cafe. I'll be back to them on Saturday and I can't wait.

     

    The afternoon was spent on an epic photo event, as I took two of my extreme ice swimmers by boat to the tip of Cape Point. Google it. Very dramatic. We got to the point in howling wind and rough seas, and they jumped in, speedos, caps and goggles. I made cool pictures of them swimming with the light house on the point in the background. Then I jumped in with them and made some more pics from the water as they swam among the kelp beds. Beautiful. Wild. Thrilling. I could hardly believe I was there.

     

    Today I visited the guys in their homes and did some lifestyle shots, documenting these ordinary guys who happen to do extraordinary things. After that I took the 5 of them for a swim at Clifton beach where the water was a shockingly cool 10.4 C (about 49 or 50 F). It was so strange because the water is the color of the Caribbean, but then you step in and the cold hurts. It doesn't match up. Confusing for the senses. The guys were sports and swam for the camera which meant they had a lot of time just treading water rather than actually swimming hard. We all came out chilled to the core.

      

    Back in my little apartment, Gui-Friday and I worked on some of the day's imagery. He's a whiz at post production and is really helping me get the most out of the stuff I'm shooting.

    Dinner was odds and ends I have in the fridge - crackers and a bit of hummus, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, South African Rooibos tea and a bit of dark chocolate for desert. A hot shower and bed await.

    Gui will come fetch me early in the morning for an aerial shoot! I'll be flying a tiny fixed wing over Cape Point and some other spots I've been working this week. It should be a spectacular ride.

    I'll report in tomorrow. These days are full and good here in Cape Town. I remain on a quest to make the most of my time here.

    - HP

  • First Impressions

    I looked out the window and my heart leapt.

        

    Of course, I didn't have a window seat, so my seat mate - Jack Linaker, a lovely young man from the UK - did me the honor of snapping a pic from my iPhone as we approached. But i was craning my neck as far as my seat belt would let me go to get my first glimpse of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Disembark into the Cape Town International Airport which is modern and airy. I wiz through immigration and no sooner got to the luggage carousel when all of my bags came round - hello, haven't seen you guys since Boston Tuesday night! Out the door to meet my ride, Sybil Simpson, lifelong Cape Tonian who becomes an instant friend. Yes, this place will suit me just fine.

    Sensory check:

    Walking the corridors of the airport I hear people talking. Local folk. Their voices a song, each of them. Lovely melodic tones. Quiet and lyrical. It's like a lullaby. 

    I step outside into the Cape Town air. Eyes closed, deep breath in. Yes. The smell of someplace else. The base note is earth. Not the squishy, green, damp earth smell in Maine, no. This is an old earth, a scent informed by rich browns and tans. Umber. Mingling atop that, changing from breath to breath, is the scent of spices. Curry? No not quite. I'm not familiar enough yet with this place to tell you what spice it is, but it makes me want to soak in this place. Delicious. Different. Mingling with this are city smells, urban, distinct. And then, just barely, I smell the sea. The salty notes of the Atlantic dance above the distinct aroma of this place.

    As we turn on to the highway, it's there. Table Mountain. I've heard about it, seen photographs. But nothing has quite prepared me for this sight. Monolithic. Dominant. Commanding. Magnetic. Inspiring. This mountain is drawing me to it and I'm not even out of the car yet. Right there, above the hustle of this bustling city it stands. It really has some magic pull. I'm reminded of the Island in Lost.

    To the fabulous and funky hotel. My room clean, bright, modern and just right for a city stay. Complementary chocolates and brownie, thank you very much. 

          

    My hotel for the weekend: welcome with sweets, a room with a view.

    I rinse away the 747 in a perfectly scalding shower. I'd like to crawl into the luxe bed, but nope, I'm here to see Cape Town. Camera, pack, I'm out the door. I need some exercise after the journey here so i pass on the elevator and opt for the stairs. As the door closes behind me I realize my mistake - I've entered the fire stair well. And from this side it's a door with no handle. No where to go but down down down into the belly of this hotel. Classic. I'm off to see Cape Town via the basement. 

    No matter, I hit the street and head to the main thoroughfare - Long St. I cruise. Cafes and curios, surf shops and sushi stops, clubs and all manner of cool architecture. Colonial in places, colorful, painted and bedecked with hanging signs and plants and lanterns. This place is New Orleans meets San Juan meets Casablanca. 

    I choose a cafe for lunch. Sit at a sidewalk table. Relax. Watch. Listen. The faces around me are of all ethnicities - Euro, Asian, African, Indian. The fashion is just as varied - hats and leather coats and flip flops and hijabs. There is no uniform here. There many people tasked with caring for this city. Public workers who wear vests that say Public Safety and Cleansing are everywhere. More sing-songy voices. Distant music heavy with base drum. Diesel engines and funny, quick car horns. I'm smiling with my eyes closed when my server brings my salad.

    On the walk back I'm careful to look both ways 3 or 4 times on crossing any street. They drive on the left here and I'm still a little tired and I can't quite figure out where the traffic is coming from. But nothing about this city, new to me, seems remotely intimidating. As a matter of fact, I feel pretty much at home.

    In a few minutes I'll meet the UK production team for Through the Lens. Can't wait to hear what they've got planned for me tomorrow.

    - HP

         

    Art, lunch stop, more art. I already love the vibrant colors of Cape Town.

    PS. Just back from a great dinner with the Through the Lens crew, and the photographer they worked with before me, Stephen Alvarez. Seems like I'm going to be in great hands. Oh, and my friends at home will be happy to know that a Karaoke gauntlet has been thrown...i'm in for a crazy good week.

    Cruised past this little courtyard with a fabulous sign...No Hooting!

  • Down time at #heathrow

    After a surprisingly quick(ish) flight from Boston to London, I've been hanging out here at Heathrow's Terminal 5. Not sure when this place was built but it is a stunning and airy space of glass and cool colors. Very modern with fantastic conveniences. I found a corner to do a quick core workout, drank plenty of water, and sat in a comfy chair to read up on Cape Town and connect with friends and fam at home. 

    surprisinglyMy transition from here to there is not yet complete, but it wasn't a bad way to spend the day.

        

    Arrival at the shiny Terminal 5. A quick post core workout snack - plenty of water. Kicking back for some research on Cape Town...and the latest fashion trends...

    I put out a twitter call about great places to catch a sun set and where in Cape Town I should visit to get a taste of the local music scene. I got some great responses, including those from @hollie_days who recommended the terrace @12_Apostles at Camps Bay, and multiple recommendations for Table Mountain and Signal Hill for sunsets, while @Mac_Sach recommends the VA Waterfront for music and local culture. Very pleased to note that all of these locations are on my shot list for the Through The Lens project I'll be part of for the first half of my stay.

    Just a few hours left before my overnight flight to Cape Town. A little more reading, perhaps a little shopping before boarding. The next time I'll write will be from below the equator.

    - HP

  • Transition

    I've been packing. Clothes: in and out of the bag, back in, no, take that out. Haven't done a trip quite like this in a while so it's tricky to know exactly what to take and not bring everything I feel comfortable wearing. Camera gear - that's easy. Bring it all. Land lenses, underwater housing, new accessories, strobes. It adds up. I should have been lifting more.

    You've been patient and now I'll tell you. Tonight I leave for Cape Town, South Africa. I'm being sent for a very cool collaboration between the National Geographic Channel and South African Tourism. They'll be taking me all over Cape Town for 4 days and I could not be happier or more excited about it. Photogs to have done this before me include some of my favorites, like Jodi Cobb and Joel Sartore. So this assignment feels pretty amazing to me on many levels.

    But I could not fly to South Africa and leave after only 4 days. So I'm extending my stay by another 5 to shoot a freelance story on some folks in the open water swimming community in Cape Town. Should be pretty dynamic, pretty challenging - an opportunity to take what I do to another level.

    Fall has kicked in here in Maine. It's a beautiful and unpredictable season - days that begin with frost and end with kids in their shirt sleeves (as we say) are not uncommon. It feels sometimes like the weather can't decide what it wants to do. Restless. Transitioning between our two most spectacular seasons of summer and winter. 

    As I begin my journey tonight - an overnight flight to London and then another almost directly south, to the bottom of Africa - I'll flip upside down into South Africa's transition season of spring. I've been watching their weather from here, and the temps have been remarkably similar to ours, only Cape Town is on a warming trend as they head into their subequatorial Summer. Neat to be nearly 8000 miles from home and have the climate be nearly the same.

    Ahhh, but the views....

    South Africa is rooted in a mix of landscapes. The Atlantic Ocean collides with the Indian Ocean. A massive continent ends and points to the bottom of the world. Cape Town is surrounded on 3 sides by a dramatic coast line with wild waters, and centered by the famous Table Mountain. It's a stunning and diverse landscape from the pictures I've seen...can hardly wait to start creating photographs of my own. And the people - by all accounts warm, creative, welcoming and shaped by a complex and rich past. I'm so looking forward to meeting and living among them for a time. I'm prepared to be inspired.

    Travel is the reason I became a photographer. Of course I love to make photographs and that drives me more and more all the time. But what has always propelled me is my desire to get out into the world and see it. All of it. Absorb it. Feel it. Swallow it and carry it home inside me.

    So the pull of travel has got me today. Counter balanced with that is the tug of home. I'm a swirl of wanderlust and roots (thanks AS). I look at my boys (husband and son) and think oh my gosh how can I leave? And then I remember - this going is part of who I am. I have to go see. And after I've seen, I'll come back to this amazing home. So when a job like this comes up...well. I feel like I must be the luckiest person on Earth.

    But today is about transition. From home body to wanderer, from fall to spring, from here to there. Bags are packed. We'll have a typical day. Tonight I'll jump in the car and begin this journey to a place I've never been. Hard to imagine and exciting to dream about what the next two weeks will hold.

    I'll be blogging every day (internet access depending). If you follow along, I'll feel like I've brought more of home with me. Sharing is an integral part of adventure for this traveler. 

    - HP

    PS. Thanks again to National Geographic Channel and South African Tourism for this opportunity!