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ROUND THE BEND (article first published : 2007-01-13)

Obie Oberholzer is acknowledged as one of South Africa’s best-loved photographers. A modern troubadour with a camera, his latest book titled Round the Bend: Travels Around Southern Africa tells his stories of journeys through Southern Africa in the last two years. This is Obie Oberholzer’s seventh book and it has been hailed as his magnum opus.

Round the Bend is a splendidly produced travelogue of 190 colour photos in 176 pages, mostly accompanied by zany stories of a number of journeys through South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Swaziland and Mozambique.

The quirky opening picture is indicative of the soul of this book. The triangular red and white danger road sign, painted over with green, now sports a smiley face. Presumably the sign’s initial purpose was to warn drivers of a blind corner. This still holds true but now the traveller is invited along the lonely, stony road to a mountainous “somewhere” that promises unending horizons.

Humour is very much a part of Obie Oberholzer’s psyche and he says: “When travelling through Africa, your best companion is a sense of humour”. That, indeed, is his only companion on his travels. In Round the Bend, Obie states that it is a record of his life’s journeys through Africa - not to get somewhere specifically but to meander and drive to get the ‘happy and sad’ essence of the vast South African landscape and the haphazard unpredictability that runs through all these different places. His stories are strange, odd, trivial and funny and in some cases full of pathos.

The book is divided into 11 different sections dealing with Portraits, Landscapes, Some Animals to Nightscapes, Graveyards and Willie and Bob’s Uncle - you will find out about them and the reason for the book’s title in the highly amusing introduction.

As you turn the pages, the photographs facing you have a dialogue with each other although remaining highly individual in their own right. There are commonalities of colour as in the fuchsia pink fishnet stockings in Grahamstown and the corresponding pink bedspread in Limpopo province. I loved the ‘Advertising Shoot’ set-up of Nicolas Ellenbogen as George W Bush. Obie says the funniest quip of the day was Nicolas Ellenbogen’s: “I’d rather be Robert Mugabe”, and the most interesting quotation was from Desmond Tutu: “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘let us pray’, we closed our eyes, when we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

I think that all the anecdotes and captions, written in Obie Oberholzer’s own handwriting, lend the book his personality. He was on a shoot for First National Bank to photograph Acacia Tortilis trees. After two weeks he found himself on a great grass plain around Kimberley. The farmer took him up in his microlight and shouted, “What are you working on?” Obie shouted back, “A book called Round the Bend. So the farmer flew over a field and pointed at the only bend on his farm – which resulted in one of the most delightful images in the book.

It almost goes without saying that the photographs are without exception absolutely stunning, be it a mirror image of the Rooiberg in the Orange River or pebbles on the Namib coastline to pictures of bars or trading stores. The luxury of a bathroom of the Outpost Lodge in the Kruger National Park contrasts with the derelict tank belonging to Alfonso, a former Frelimo tank commander, parked outside his hut in Mozambique.

There are some brilliant special effect pictures and highly detailed ones, such as the Donkey’s Death and Millipede Grave in which Oberholzer worked out the fact that this millipede had 262 legs. If I were to discuss and describe every one of the 190 photos, this review would be pages long. Suffice to say, this book engenders the feeling that I would like to get in a car and just go wherever the road Round the Bend leads me.

Round the Bend is a handsomely presented coffee table book and all images photographed on Pentax 6x7cm camera, using Kodak 120 Portra 160 NC Colour negative film. Work Prints are done on Kodak Prof. Supra Endura colour paper. Scans are done by Tony Meintjes (Meintjes Digital) from the original colour negatives, using the prints as reference.

Published by Double Storey Books, Round the Bend: Travels Around Southern Africa retails at R330. ISBN 1-77013-102-7 – Cherry MacIldowie




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