THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE ASS
Namib Desert, Namibia 2017
One of my favourite art quotes is from the legendary American photographer Diane Arbus: “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.” I enjoy telling stories and am influenced by the work of Gerard Rancinan – who juxtaposes architypes and creates disorderly dreams.
Over the past couple of years, some of my more coveted work has been staged. The wolf in the bar in Montana has virtually sold out and the apocalyptical image of a gang in abandoned Detroit is now doing well. These intricate images take a restless mind to conceive and then intense emotional engagement to execute.
Every so often I allow myself an indulgent assignment and try to follow a bold creative idea linearly through to conception. The final image is a result of creating a scene rather than recording a scene and this, in itself, demands a great deal of cognitive processing. Staged imagery demands exhaustive attention to detail, exactly because they are staged. The photographer cannot really blame nature for a flopped shot, as the dynamic of the random walk of nature is largely eliminated.
I was due a little self-indulgence this summer after my trip to North Korea and so several months ago, we started to plan a staged shoot in the vast wilderness of the Namib Desert – surely one of the most visually intoxicating locations in the world. My concept was to build a fully stocked bar in the desert and then to fill it with a hotch potch of disconnected characters. Mad Max was set to meet Burning Man. The composition had to be painterly and perfectly backlit – and perfect lighting in the desert is no easy task.
I knew enough fixers and friends in Namibia for the project to gain momentum. In particular, I had worked before with Namibia’s leading conservationists – Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren – who alongside many other notable endeavours, look after orphaned big cats. Their Na’an/ Ku Se sanctuary outside Windhoek is world renowned and they are something of a golden couple in this vast but sparsely populated country. Marlice was happy to collaborate on the project and bring two of her cheetahs down to the Namib.
An intricate image started to emerge in my head – one that was disorderly and full of visual double takes. I am in awe of the crew, led by Alex Ames, which made the site under the hot Namibian sun and took my ever changing directions with good humour and a smile. Finding the enormous and somewhat haunting dead tree in the desert was a key moment in our location scouting.
I think that the end result, despite the intended visual chaos, has that painterly composition that I was striving for. The fabulous Erica Lawrence from New York makes the image pure “bad ass”. Without her, we had no image. As she herself said “dope”.