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"E" Is For Extraordinary

A few pipes sticking out of a dam and its reflection on an overcast day might not sound very interesting, and believe me, this was not what we had in mind when we set off to take pictures for a failed exercise in daily photography on that February afternoon in 2014. And yet this photo is way there on top with some of my favourite letter photos. My only New Year’s resolution for 2014 was this: take one photo a day and post it online. January saw me completing this goal for 25 of the 31 days.

That-Man-Who-Encourages-Me saw where this was heading and basically bundled me into the car on the first day of the new month in order to help me keep my momentum. We were headed for Kamfersdam, one of only four breeding sites for the lesser flamingo in Africa, and the only one in South Africa. It’s also the most accessible of the four, as it’s right outside Kimberley. Estimates vary as to how many birds gather here. Some people say 20,000 while others say it could increase to as much as 50,000 depending on different factors.

Well, we were hoping to get some kind of flamingo photo. You know, when you develop an interest in photography, you don’t always think things through rationally. Of course, everyone wants to take the breathtaking photos we see everywhere, but once you start on this road, you realise that capturing sunrises means you’ll have to get out of bed, into your clothes, out the door and travel to the remote place where that perfect photo is to be immortalised, then drag your camera gear with the weight of a young wildebeest some distance to the perfect vantage point, set it all up and wait for the sun to rise. Do i have to state the obvious; that all of this needs to happen BEFORE THE SUN RISES?! That’s sunrise photos for you, but we were not doing that. We were going to take pictures of the candy floss-coloured ballerinas in the dam just outside town. How difficult could it be? That sounds like a famous-last-words-phrase to me.

Whether it was the seasonal rains or excess sewage (which is a constant source of newspaper articles in our city), i can’t remember, but what i do remember is the sheer amount of thick, sticky mud we faced when we set foot on the land to the East of the rail tracks next to the dam. Both driving and walking to the flamingos on the far side of the dam was going to take so much time that we’d be stranded by nightfall, so we’d have to stick to this side. The limited zoom capabilities of my camera lens would not suffice to draw the birds closer, either. They were all very comfortably settled on their man-made island in the far corner of the dam.

What to do? You do what you can, which meant scavenging around for interesting details while we waited for the sun to set. With the overcast sky breaking just enough to create a small incision in the cloud cover to the West, we thought it might be a good idea to wait and see what lay ahead at sunset. However, that wouldn’t happen for a while, so we walked along the water’s edge in hopes of finding something interesting to capture. As i was walking towards the city, i saw some pipes sticking out of the water. First there were two pipes – parallel to each other, one slightly taller than the other – and not far from these were what seemed to be the remains of a small gate. As i passed these and turned around, the change in perspective had made a remarkable difference to the scene.

With the change in the direction of the lens, the colour of the water changed to a mystical blue-grey. The two pipes that had seemed parallel to each other actually formed a sharp angle from this side, and together with their reflection, it formed a perfect letter “K.” The structure next to it also mirrored itself to complete the letter “E.” What a find!

While we’d been hoping to snap a colourful photo (maybe even a letter photo) of the famous birds, here i was feeling all ecstatic about monotone photos of some pipes! Even though this was not our aim for the day, the photos i took have become mainstays in my collection.

But wait, there’s more!

Of course, the sunset was still to come. i pulled out the tripod, set it up at what seemed to be a good spot and fixed the camera firmly to its top. As the sun closed in on the gap in the clouds, i snapped away – almost 300 photos of the clouds and the sun reflecting in the water. When it became too dark, I turned the camera towards Homevale and started playing with some long exposure shots of the street lights and their twins dancing upside down in the mirror of the dam. You might recognise one of these photos as the photo on our Welcome page.

With the sun all set and no more opportunities for pictures, we returned home, our thoughts occupied by one thing: although we’d set off to find one thing, we found several others of value. Isn’t that how life treats us some days? We search for one extraordinary thing and find another – or many – extraordinary things in the most unexpected of places and ways.

Other articles in this series include:

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