“There are not many countries as beautiful as South Africa: its beauty has nothing to do with prettiness, Europe-style. It can be harsh and threatening. But everywhere you go the land is achingly lovely; not just Cape Town but everywhere from the coast of Zululand to the ferocity and grandeur of the Karoo.
“And photography is the true South African art-form, just as
it is the true art-form of America. Only the camera can do justice to those faces lined like road maps, the mocking eyes, the moments of hatred and joy, the harsh, grand, unforgettable landscapes.
“Modern South Africa has its master-painter, its poet laureate, in the work of Petrus Cornelius Jacobus Oberholzer, known as Obie. Of farming stock himself – he was born outside Pretoria in the old Transvaal – he studied at Stellenbosch University and then in Munich, and eventually became a professor of photography at Rhodes University.
“His photographs make and break all the rules. He will wag
a fierce set of lights intended for movie-shoots to and fro across some part of his subject while his camera is set on
an immensely long exposure. Some pictures he snaps in an instant, others he takes hours to prepare. And he seems to spot effects that no one else ever does: weird cloud formations, mysterious groups performing unexplained tasks, and all those brooding, disturbed and sometimes inexplicably joyful people.
“Like his previous works, Obie’s newest release, Long Time Passing: Karoo Journeys, might be categorised as a coffee-table book, in that it’s big and heavy and beautifully produced; but ‘coffee-table’ usually implies tame, safe, packed with pictures to be glanced at while you’re waiting for your hostess to come in with a tray of something encouraging. There is nothing remotely tame or safe about Obie Oberholzer’s photographs.”
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