I took the photograph of the Blackheaded Heron drinking thirstily at Abramskraal in September 2015. The water runs clear blue and deep. The single drop of water falling from the bird’s chin is a symbol of plenty. There is enough to take great gulps and let it spill from the beak. It was the beginning of Spring and although there was a sense that the rain had been scarce during the Winter the full extent of the devastating drought was not yet apparent.
The photographs of the baby Redknobbed Coots struggling through shallow overgrown water was taken at the end of January 2016 at the very same Abramskraal. Now the water is almost all gone and the birds and animals are all desperating waiting for rain. There is a murky ugly quality to the water in spite of the photograph having been taken from the same seat during the same golden late afternoon light. On the day of this picture the Eland were lurking in the background as though they were afraid to leave the source of fresh water. A photograph like this has the ability to call up the contrast of the current reality and helps us to keep track of environmental changes in ways that descriptions alone cannot. We get notified via SMS that Voëlvlei Dam is dropping rapidly below the 24% water level mark and get asked to not use hosepipes, but unless being confronted by nature itself, or alternatively the small slices of life presented by photographs, we are too removed from the inconvenience of biological survival to know what this means.
Both photographs were taken with a 500 mm lens fitted with a 1.4 converter to turn it into the equivalent of a 700mm lens. Both photographs were taken on days that presented good light. The heron was taken at f9, indicating that the environment was as enticing as the subject itself. With the coots I took the shot at f6.3 – trying to create a narrower depth of field and leave the little birds able to jump out at the eye and for some of the muck to fade into the background. It still fails to excite me as a pretty picture, but as a photograph it holds that threatening message of a truly thirsty environment.
THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE PUBLISHED BY THE YZERFONTEIN URBAN CONSERVANCY NEWSLETTER