A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of staying with friends at a farmhouse near Memel, in the Free State, South Africa.
For much of the time, we spent our days relaxing and enjoying the scenery. On the last morning, before heading back home our host had GPS reference all the tracks on the farm. Being in the civil engineering/road construction business, he was also interested in noting all the drainage systems that crossed over/under the tracks. Many of them were in need of desperate repair. I was tasked with taking photos at each site to save some time. But that’s not what you are about to see here. Can you imagine – boring photo after boring photo of dilapidated concrete pipes?!
He kindly then went out of his way to show us a location on the farm where there was some rock art.
Tucked away in a thicket of scrubby trees and bushes, we spent a quick 5-10 minutes looking at the rock face of sandstone boulders that had long ago fallen down from the mighty cliffs above.
Low down on these rock faces, mostly below waist-height, were several scenes painted on by the San People, otherwise known as the Bushman.
Not having much time to spare, I snapped a few shots with the hope that we shall return to explore these boulders in more detail. There are apparently many more paintings higher up on the cliff faces above.
From my cursory investigations into Bushman Rock Art I have learned that had it not been for the arrival of the European Settlers in combination with the Zulu and Basotho hunters (who had a very different philosophy on cattle/livestock ownership) much of the art would not have been preserved.
This tragic irony comes about from the fact that the Bushmen, hunters and gatherers by tradition, were themselves hunted. They were driven away from the plains where they lived and were forced to take refuge in the remote mountains of the Drakensburg and Maluti. It is because of the remote location, that their art work survives.
Using ochres for reds, browns and yellows; silica, china-clay and gypsum for white; specularite and magnesium minerals for blacks, mixed with egg albumin or blood as binding agents, these paintings are a fragile reminder of the original South African inhabitants.
Most of the pictures at this location are of animals and hunting scenes.
Elsewhere, Bushman Rock Art often contains very spiritual images including dancing figures of shamen (medicine men).
Photographing rock art is a challenging task. Having only 5-10 minutes was decidedly not enough time to do these images justice. I have also learnt that flash photography is not detrimental to the rock art, but it does result in flared light. Using diffuse light would be a much better option. I think it would be a good exercise for long exposures (and a tripod)!
I will also remember to take a ground-sheet. Most of the images were low down, and would probably be best photographed whilst sitting on the ground. It was quite muddy and there was plenty of animal droppings to dodge. At this site, there was a barrier up to keep cattle from rubbing up against the wall – but a goat-sized animal would get through with no trouble at all. Who knows how long these images will last…
For more information on South African Rock Art, I have found the following websites to be very interesting: