By Jana-Mari Smith
At the Namibia Craft Centre (NCC) in Windhoek, Foto Namibia offers visitors a window into Namibia, its seasons, weather, abundant wildlife and eclectic kaleidoscope of people.
Hentie Burger, the photographer behind this rainbow of images, took his first photograph when he was 12 years old. Now, more than four decades later, he’s still at it.
He has dedicated a vast proportion of his life exploring Namibia from all angles and perspectives, and there are very few nooks and crannies in this vast country that have not been captured through his lens.
Browsing through the shelves stacked with photographs of all shapes, sizes and printing techniques, visitors can gain a good overview of the country. Foto Namibia presents visitors with a veritable exhibition of its unfolding story.
Hard work goes into his chosen craft. Hentie and Hilda-Marié, his wife and photographic assistant of many years, meticulously research his projects and painstakingly plan the tasks and routes they will take to avail the right opportunities for Hentie to take the best photographs possible. He says it can take up to a year or even two to plan such a mission, and then he’ll spend weeks in the field engrossed in his subject – whether it’s landscape, people, wildlife or whatever else he’s set his mind on.
Says Hentie: “I enjoy the freedom photography gives me. There are no hard and fast rules. The more I study, the better my images become.”
Capturing the ultimate image
Hentie was a wildlife photographer for 12 years. “But it was only after five or six years that I began to gain an insight into this particular line of photography.”
Hentie and his wife have taken to the bush on foot, in a 4×4, on the backs of camels and donkeys, and in microlights and light aircraft, all to capture that illusive image that makes all the effort worthwhile.
“Don’t make a judgment in just half an hour. Go there often, throughout the year. Experience the different facets, the good and the bad, the droughts and the years of abundance.”
Hentie tries to be out in the bush for 50% of the year. “You have to be patient and dedicated.” He admits that out of a thousand or more frames he shoots in a week, you might end up with only one exceptional image.
“It’s important to get out regularly. To walk and look at what’s on the ground at your feet. There are treasures all around you.”
He adds that when he’s outside, even in his own garden, he observes and takes note of his surroundings. “Everything is interconnected; the soil, the vegetation, the animals and the people. ‘How do they influence each other?’ I ask myself.”
He enjoys being out in the open, even when he’s not taking photographs. More often than not, he frames his images with recycled material. He does his own printing, which makes him a photographer who is involved in his craft from top to bottom.
Code of conduct
Hentie strives to capture the essence of what he’s photographing. With wildlife he wants to convey the particular feeling of a scene – of play and of joy, of stalking and of the relief at having evaded yet another predator.
Early on in his photographic career he took to the skies, exploring Namibia from above, avoiding the regular routes, always trying to find a fresh angle, rendering the familiar unfamiliar.
Cultural photography is another passion. Here Hentie and Hilda-Marié stick to a strict code of conduct. They introduce themselves to the people they want to photograph. “But we don’t ask them to pose for us. I don’t want to control the scene. I simply want to observe and record it.”
They make sure there is a guide present to facilitate the interaction. Over the years, there have been places that Hentie has visited regularly, and in the process he has captured images of a child on the road of becoming an adult.
He still takes a third of his photographs with film – for no particular reason other than it is one of the ways in which to capture images.
But he also likes the digital technology, and doesn’t shy away from the many possibilities this medium offers. Sometimes he touches up images using paints, a creative outlet that offers the viewer something quite different.
This year, Foto Namibia launched a new series of greeting cards along the theme and with the logo: “Time flies when you’re having fun.” The cards depict everyday scenes from across Namibia – many are humorous and full of joy.
Hentie tries to create something new every year to avoid his photography becoming stale. “We’re always fine-tuning our products.”
A passion for books
Hentie’s enthusiasm for books has taken shape as a unique, specialised non-fiction book outlet that is a sub-section of Foto Namibia at the NCC, featuring and selling books that reflect all things Namibian – the country’s past and present, its abundance of wildlife, and the memoirs and travels of its multi-cultured people.
Photographic coffee-table books share the shelves with intimate studies of Namibian personalities, botanical books, academic works, light-hearted portrayals of the country, and the award-winning cookbook My hungry Heart by Antoinette de Chavonnes-Vrugt, for which Hentie was the principal photographer.
He also provides a small selection of Afrikaans books along similar themes.
Paulina’s boutique stall
Paulina Shikongo is the owner of what must be smallest stall at the NCC, from where she acts as the sales manager for Foto Namibia.
Ten years ago she launched her own enterprise, running parallel to Foto Namibia. Occupying little more that one square metre, it provides just enough space for a tall-standing CD holder.
Paulina specialises mainly in Namibian music, but also sports a number of musicians hailing from neighbouring countries. Her Namibian collection encompasses modern and traditional music, including albums featuring Elemotho, Shishana and the well-known Ama Buruxa choir from Maltahöhe. On the traditional side, she sells albums of Himba music, Owambo traditional songs and Namibian folk songs.
Paulina says the Foto Namibia outlet into which her stand is incorporated has provided her with great opportunities to meet people from different countries. She is proud of the fact that the stand caters for so much – music, photography, calendars, books and postcards. “What I offer here gives you an authentic vibe of the country. I really enjoy what I do.”
To contact Hentie Burger visit Foto Namibia at the Namibia Craft Centre or mail him at email@example.com