Orange fish in the ocean - photo by Hiroko Yoshii - photo by Hiroko Yoshii

Namibia Abstracts

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At dawn on my first morning in Namibia, I joined a small-plane flyover of the NamibRand desert and Sossusvlei sand dunes. Despite my extensive travels, I could never have imagined what was unfolding below us.

Winds coming east off the Atlantic and west across southern Africa continually shaping and transforming hundreds of miles of sand. Parched riverbeds like the life lines of your hand. Dunes hundreds of feet high rippling along for miles, their colors changing from bluish grey and pinkish blue, to soft yellow, and then to oranges and reds and rich purples. Knife-edged dunes slashing this way and that, exploding with light on one slope, black and featureless on the far side, untouched by the still-low sun. Bowls sculpted over years of shallow puddles and the mad partnering of the winds. Faint threads of streams and trails of elephants and springboks.

Over the next three weeks, I flew low across shape-shifting landscapes in four-seater planes among seven “bush airfields” scattered across Namibia and Botswana. I took pictures, mainly with my phone, through sand-blasted, sun-aged windows. Wings and their shadows, the throbbing of the engines, inside reflections and air-pocket drops all left their marks on the images. The pictures did not look like the “real” desert. They were far removed from what I saw and felt — a disappointment. Like coming home with a duffle bag full of dirt and desiccated plant material.

Experimenting with post-processing and revisiting the pictures many times over the last two years, I have been able to find — among a few hundred blurred, off-color, haze-filtered pictures — the arresting shapes, the hidden colors, the mysterious shadows, and the soft and harsh hands of the sun that materialized in these abstract images. They express the intensity of my emotional experience in the air and the excitement of discovering messages encoded in fairy circles and red sand, in ocher rock and lost rivers.

“Namibia Abstracts”is a series of 27 pictures, half of which appeared in a 2018 exhibition entitled “Elements: Fire and Ice” at New York state’s Harrison Public Library. Individual photographs have appeared in group shows and a virtual art gallery. My book, Unworldly Namibia Botswana, includes a selection.

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