Each year – together with Wildlight Safaris – I lead a photographic safari through Botswana where we witness and photograph a myriad of wildlife across a number of different regions, from the Chobe River to the Okavango Delta. On last year’s trip I wanted to take a little extra time after the safari to explore Africa just a little bit further. So after waving goodbye to our safari guests, together with Dean Fitzpatrick I headed off on the long road trip towards our destination; Damara Land in Namibia.
Nine hours of bumping along dusty dirt roads through temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius saw our arrival in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city and the geographical centre of the country. The following day was another five hours back into the desert before arriving at our remote overnight campsite. To escape from the heat we set up our tents under a huge, sheltering rock formation in the desert, though I believe the temperature only dropped from “incredibly hot” to “man it’s hot”!
From here we walked overland to the nearby village of Otjikandero where we would spend the next two days photographing the remarkable people of the Himba tribes. It was late in the day when we arrived and the desert dust was painted orange with the afternoon sun. Simply walking into the village surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional way of life was incredibly captivating, let alone the true magic of actually being there once we spent time amongst the joyful and friendly inhabitants.
Apart from the rare bushman, the Ovahimba are the last tribe in Africa still living strictly within their tradition. Otjikandero Village in Namibia is an exceptional example of this, with a way of life centred on their close relationship with nature, their livestock and their children.
The village in fact offers succour and safety to a large number of orphaned children, all raised here in the traditional manner so as to continue the Himba custom. On our visit we witnessed the children playing the simplest of games with sand and an old bottle, we watched as another two boys and a girl wrestled with a goat, literally milking it on the run before sharing the spoils with each other. Their innocence and their happiness in a place with no technology was extremely humbling. Though of course once they saw the camera they were fascinated and wanted to see and touch it – staring at the images on the back of it. They followed us everywhere and the highlight of my day was definitely the children – holding my hands or clinging to my legs whenever I stood still and constantly chattering away to us with laughter and excitement.
The indigenous Himba are a semi-nomadic, pastoral culture. They wear little clothing, covering themselves with “otjize” which is a mixture of butter fat and ochre. This gives their skin a distinctive reddish tinge and symbolizes the earth’s rich red colour and the blood of life. The women braid each other’s hair and cover all but the ends with the ochre mixture – an intricate and time consuming process. Once they reach puberty, women no longer wash with water but use the ash and smoke from burning aromatic plants and resins to cleanse and perfume themselves. We were able to see and photograph these ritualistic practices, a privilege Dean and I greatly appreciated.
I kept my shooting very simple, using the golden light and dust to create mood in my imagery wherever possible. For close up shots in the harsher daylight hours I chose to underexpose my images and use a single off-camera speedlite to create dramatic lighting and further highlight the wonderful red tones and colour in their skin. As we were on foot I kept my gear to a minimum, using predominantly my Nikon D800e along with my 70-200mm and 24-70mm lenses.
It was a sad departure when we had to finally say goodbye, heading back to our campsite and onwards to Naukluft Park, Deadvlei and the Sossusvlie regions of the Namibian Desert for further photography adventures.
Click to watch a video of Chris photographing in the Himba village:
All images copyright Chris McLennan.
To read more about Chris’s Botswana Wildlight Photo Safari and to see the next available dates, visit our photos tours page here.