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.