Ahead of launching Brooke Holm’s exhibition Sand Sea in our Fitzroy showroom this Thursday, we spoke with the photographer about her motivations and gained an insight into how this incredible body of work came about. Immersing herself in Africa’s Namib Sand Sea – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – for two weeks, Holm explored the landscapes by roaming the dunes in a 4×4 and taking two long helicopter flights above the desert. Having a lens fail on her during her first flight didn’t stop her, admitting ‘there will be bumps but it’s all part of the adventure’. The result is a series of nine magnificent original photographs that consider the intricacies of these vast landscapes in stunning detail. With subtle references to the human body, this is a truly captivating body of work which we are thrilled to be exhibiting.
Read more from our chat with Brooke below and be sure to visit us to immerse yourself in this work before 31 March.
What was your motivation to head to Africa Namib Sea National park?
I had seen some satellite images from NASA and also in Google Earth that showed the Namib Sand Sea, and more specifically, Sossusvlei. It looked unreal, so I started researching the area further. I found out that it was a national park, it was the oldest desert in the world, it had the largest sand dunes and that it was also home to a very dedicated climate change research facility where scientists from all over the world study the unique ecosystem there. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and is also unique in that the main source of water for most lifeforms is the fog that rolls in over the coastline every morning. It is also one of the places on earth that is most at risk to the effects of climate change. I found out that Namibia was the first country in the world to write climate change policies into their constitution, which is inspiring to say the least. All of this, besides the remarkable beauty of the place, was motivation for me to dive into it further.
How long did you spend there? And did you explore the area both on land and in the air to get a feel for things before beginning?
I was there for under two weeks, driving around in a 4×4 from place to place. Long stretches of nothing (and everything) in between. Getting stuck in the sand and digging my way out, hiking up the tallest dune in the world, seeing all kinds of beautiful African animals in their natural habitat… I purposely wanted to photograph the Sand Sea from the air, as I am known to do, so I had organised that before arriving. There is enough information out there these days to be able to carve out a plan before arriving rather than needing to see it all first. I hired two different helicopter pilots to take me on two long flights over different swathes of the national park, and at different times of day. Because the Namib Sand Sea is so incredibly vast (over 80,000km!) I didn’t have the luxury of scouting each place. I had to do all my research online first and come very prepared. There will be bumps and things that go wrong but it’s all part of the adventure. I had a lens fail on me the first flight – which luckily I figured out but it could have been much worse.
Did you have any preconceived ideas about how you wanted to shoot this series?
I definitely have preconceived ideas about how I’m going to shoot something. Though that being said, when I am photographing nature, there is never 100% control, you have to be willing to adapt and go with the flow. I fortunately was able to get what I was after. When I’m up in the air I get a sense of what feels right, and from there I tell the pilot where to go, how high or low and how fast. Circling areas, and going back over and over again. It’s a feeling and an instinct that kicks in when I’m in the moment. And when I am taking the photo, I know for sure when I have something or don’t.
I love how the work resembles the human body, did you have these resemblances in mind ahead of shooting? If so, did this change the way you tackled the shoot?
This is actually something I noticed when I was in the air, both times. It was just my personal realisation. It became even more evident when I was going through the filtering and editing process because I could see both shoots next to each other in the different lighting conditions, where the sand transitions from dark browns and reds to oranges, yellows and pinks. These fleshy colours in combination with the contours of the dunes is what makes them resemble the human body, for me. I know other people might see other things that I don’t, it’s about the viewers interpretation because they’re quite abstract.
You mentioned that this is one of your favourite series so far. In what way?
For a few reasons.. Firstly, technically speaking this is my best work to date. When I’m reproducing enormous large scale prints, my ultimate goal is quality, crispness and detail. I figured out a few pieces of gear that helped me get all of that in huge file formats. So that’s exciting. The more detail there is when the photographs are seen large, the more the viewer can feel as though they could step in to the scene, as though they are there. My goal is to connect people with nature, and having these ‘Through The Looking Glass’ photographs is my way of achieving that. Namibia was also special for me, I really connected with the land, and the people. Namibians are big on conservation, they care about the land and protect it. They don’t deny climate change, and treat nature as an equal, like we are part of each other. The rest of the world could learn a lot from them, it’s inspiring. My personal evolution only continues with every body of work I produce, because I am learning new things every time. About nature, the world, people and what it means to contribute and have a say in the direction our planet is headed. Apart from the visual joy I get from these photographs, there is a journey and understanding of all that comes with it.
Brooke – thanks for your time and as always, for giving us a generous insight into your work!
You can shop Sand Sea online or view the exhibition in our Fitzroy showroom until 31 March.