The visual journey of a Namibian photographer: Paul van Schalkwyk

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Author Christine Hugo takes a closer look at Namibian photographer Paul van Schalkwyk’s art

His aerial photographic art carries his own signature.

They are figments of his imagination mirrored against the soul of a country that never ceases to inspire and intrigue him.

These pieces are not commercial. They are in fact very personal. Through his viewfinder you instinctively sense the passion, the irony, the contrast, the beauty, the melancholy, the weight and the wonder of the world.

You will not necessarily know his story and might have no explanation, but somewhere in his paintings of light, his moment of truth resonates with your own and becomes part of your story, because it moves you. As art does.

PvS-708323 paul van schalkwyk

For the past three years the enigmatic, abstract aerial photographs of Paul van Schalkwyk have graced the cover of Air Namibia’s Flamingo magazine to the delight of Air Namibia passengers, and supporting the promise of the Airline – Carrying the Spirit of Namibia. Intrigued, some readers even started collecting Flamingo covers, waiting in anticipation to see what strange and mysterious image would be revealed next. This edition is the final one bearing an image from Paul’s range of aerial photographs.

It is said that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. It follows that appreciation of art in any form is absolutely subjective. Some works of art offer temporary entertainment and pleasure that certainly make life more fun. But then there are paintings, music, books, poetry, films and photography that move us beyond the obvious, that speak to you as an individual, as if created with you in mind. This is art that changes challenges and enlightens us.

What conclusion the individual draws from a work of art often has little to do with the intention of the artist. Like the postman in the Italian film Il postino says to Pablo Neruda when he is caught stealing his poems to impress the love of his life: “Poetry is not for those who write it, but for those who use it.”

“Global climate change will affect us all; we just don’t know exactly how. I consider myself fortunate to be able to document part of the process.”

paul van schalkwyk

Paul van Schalkwyk flying high to get the right shot.

When Paul sets out in his aircraft to capture images from above, either alone or with his co-pilot son Henri or his pilot friend Gustav, he does so to search for colours, textures, light and compositions that will satisfy his need to make the desolate beauty of this barren land his own. “I was captivated by the first man stepping on the moon. Since then I have been fascinated with the idea, imagining myself to be the first person to visit remote landscapes,” he explains his obsession to explore the unexplored.

It is not, however, only man’s journey to the moon that captures Paul’s imagination. Filming a documentary about the Bushmen many years ago, with the focus on the science behind the ‘coded’ animal tracks and trails across a landscape, Paul realised that there was history and meaning behind every footprint. Intrigued, he started to photograph animal tracks from the air, contemplating the meaning and capturing the mystery in a graphic, abstract way that leaves his images open for interpretation by the viewer. It is in this surreal and abstract portrayal of images that Paul’s art differs from other aerial photographic artists such as Michael Politza and Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Paul van Schalkwyk

Paul van Schalkwyk

Of course, one of the forces that would influence these ‘track messages’ is climate change – an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant in global conversations as the Arctic and Antarctic landscapes are being transformed by melting ice. How the earth and the natural landscape react to climate change is another important theme in Paul’s work. Over the past ten years Namibia has experienced abnormally high rainfall, and several of Paul’s portfolios feature the transformed desert and semi-desert landscapes, urging viewers to think about the past and the future, about their perceptions of ‘natural’, and life as we know it.

The biggest challenge in Paul’s compulsive yearning for the magical moments of life on earth from the air is time.

“Global climate change will affect us all; we just don’t know exactly how. I consider myself fortunate to be able to document part of the process.”

A flight of his imagination, a story written in the sand, the documentation of climate change or a combination of all, no matter what fuels his curiosity, Paul’s pursuit of the ultimate moment is epic.

Paul van Schalkwyk

Paul van Schalkwyk

To be at the right place at the right time might sometimes be pure chance and luck, but for Paul it more often comes from being constantly aware of what is happening out there in the sky and on the deserted plains of Namibia. No weather pattern, season, or periodic force of nature ever happens without Paul being acutely attuned to it, contemplating the impact and effect on the land. This means that he often sets out to witness and photograph the kind of natural forces that most other pilots would rather avoid, because this is where the magic happens, where he can make art with his eyes and find images that will inspire him to work for hours on end in the digital darkroom.

Recording the magical moments of life on earth from the air is as essential to Paul’s soul as oxygen to his lungs.

To reduce the weight of the aircraft as much as possible so that he can manoeuvre it to take the exact shot he wants, Paul often travels with barely any luggage or supplies. He frequently finds himself in very remote places where he sleeps on the ground under the wing of the aircraft. Once all the luxuries are stripped away, you are colder or hotter than usual and sleep a little less comfortably, but your senses become more attuned and you ‘see’ better.”

The biggest challenge in Paul’s compulsive yearning for the magical moments of life on earth from the air is time. Founder and executive chairman of an advertising agency, television station and publishing house, he must manage his calendar carefully to escape these commitments to attend to his art.

paul van schalkwyk

For him this is as essential to his soul as oxygen to his lungs – it has always been. Paul’s relationship with the camera started when he was still a young boy at school. His passion for the visual image has been the main driving force behind every venture of his career. A legendary photographer and filmmaker in Namibia, he has received more than 50 awards, both locally and internationally, for his work as photographer, cinematographer, director and writer. His wildlife films have been broadcast on National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and other television channels around the globe, and his photographs are published regularly in local and international magazines.

Paul’s exhibitions, both solo and with other Namibian artists, have been greatly successful, and in 2004 he was one of only nine African artists invited to exhibit at the Artiade during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the international art exhibition that travels with the Olympic Games.

His more commercial work is marketed under the TALA brand and features images captured during his travels through Africa and around Namibia. More realistic and decorative, the TALA range is most successful for interior design that can accommodate large images that bring the beauty of Africa to spaces with visual impact.

This article was originally published in the Air Namibia in-flight magazine, the December 2012 Flamingo edition.








Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

1 Comment

  1. Fauna Bose says:

    Absolutely top drawer stuff. Been with you once to Spitzcope with Gerrad as a pilot on his Cesna. Gorgeous work Paul.

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