Wednesday, 25 September 2013

African Skies

Perceptions of skies are coloured subtly by the environment from which the observer is experiencing them - and lets face it skies are “experienced” and not just “seen”. If you just see a sky then you are partially dead, but if you experience a sky then you are part of it, not least because the sky palette is constantly changing.

Skies are framed and referenced by landscapes over which they hang. Light intensity, colour and shapes dance and interplay from one moment to the next, providing texture and counterpoint.

How often have you shouted – “Hey – come and get a load of this sunset!” only to find that as soon as the words are spoken the moment of sublime excitement is already fading as the ambient light dulls and that impossible orange wanes into something more pastel. Or “I think I’ve just seen the Wicked Witch of the West eating the Eastern Flying Pig” but within seconds the vision has transmogrified into a mundane picture of a strangulated chicken picking at a deformed punctured child’s balloon.

The best a photograph can do is represent an infinitesimal part of a shifting canvas. What amazing luck if an image can convey even some of the emotion experienced by the photographer.

It would be arrogant to suggest that “African skies” are more dramatic than skies experienced from any other continent. But there is often a clarity in the air that somehow magnifies distance and colour, and with no exception the following photographs are for me accompanied by a uniquely African quiet; a sunset or dawn stillness . . .


At least five different cloud types  - all in a fetching battleship grey, with a half moon, and in the far, far distance Ngwenya South mountain hides the oldest known worked mine in the world.
Mbabane, Swaziland

Another day; the sort of evening I think that JMW Turner observed when in 1839 he painted "The Fighting Temeraire"
Mbabane, Swaziland

The Wicked Witch of the West about to take a mouthful out of the slumbering Eastern Flying Pig - just before she became a strangulated chicken . . .
Mbabane, Swaziland. 

Dawn looking West towards Meru. This is taken at about 3,500m high and is as cold as it looks.
Kilimanjaro Tanzania

A crystal clear sky that is truly a counterpoint to a dramatic landscape. An almost full moon hangs above Sneukop with a twisted dead Cedar trunk in the foreground; clear skies pressaging a very cold and uncomfortable night. 

Cederberg Mountains, Western Cape, South Africa

A three-quarter moon dominates the evening sky - but Venus, the evening star, lurks in the bottom left-hand corner. 
Mbabane, Swaziland

The glory of the Angel on top of the Bell Tower is echoed and emphasised by the clouds behind.
Washa Umkhukhu - House On Fire, Mahlanya, Swaziland

"Cracking Sunset!" breathes the Bronze Crested Stalk as it gazed dreamily into a blooded distance decorated with the Evening Star.
Mbabane, Swaziland

In front of Kuthula Cottage the fronded Strelitzia are reflected in and by the clouds surrounding a diffused moon
Hawane, Hhohho, Swaziland

And finally an unbelievably cheesy washed-out photograph that should be gracing the title page of a "Watch Tower" magazine. You almost expect an avuncular elderly chap to be peering around the edge of the cloud with a speech bubble proclaiming - "Don't worry - I've got you all covered!"
Nkoyoyo, Hhohho, Swaziland.


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