Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Andy Harvard enjoying an ice-cold Hansa in a hotel bar off the coast of Durban (photo source: Andy Harvard).
Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.
My guest this month is the 45-year-old South African photographer, traveller and chef Andrew (Andy) Harvard. Most chefs enjoy eating and are by nature creative people. Andy is no exception and his creative talents, ideas and passion spill over into his passion for photography, which he indulges on travels in South Africa and worldwide. He has a blog that celebrates all three passions under the descriptive title “snap fly cook”.
An early bird, Andy often wakes-up at 03h00 in summers to be on the beach in Durban, where he lives, in time for first light and sunrise an hour or so later. He is also fond of seeking out “hard to access” locations and revels in the hours spent working and reworking his photos through his favorite software packages. As he puts it:
I find this process very calming and am sometimes like a kid in awe when something magical happens. It is a meditation of sorts for me, an “addiction” that has to be fed. Oh! The wonders of HDR processing.
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Hi, Andy. Even though we haven’t met face to face, we’ve had a fair amount of electronic communication over the past six months, and I’m pleased we’re finally doing this interview. Before we start I’d like to thank you for the support you gave me when I was grappling with the real basics of DLSR and HDR photography—like how to take the lens cap off so my photos wouldn’t look so dark! I know you were born in Durban, which was the first place I visited in South Africa, in 1990. When did you spread your wings and start travelling around photographing different places?
It all started in 1999 at the end of a relationship. My ex-girlfriend and I had travelled to destinations such as Mauritius and the Maldives luxuriating in 4 & 5 star hotels and resorts. As part of our very amicable breakup, she gave me a free return flight to England, where I met my (now) best friend, Jason. He and I flew from England to Amsterdam for three nights. Remember the adage “what goes on tour stays on tour”? Well, I will say no more than it was a good tour and the start of my real travel and photography adventures.
Now we all want to know more; please carry on, Andy.
Well, I have mostly travelled alone and up until meeting my wife, have enjoyed adventuring by myself. I found that travelling with others has the potential to cause unnecessary complications. Maybe you want to eat Italian and your companion wants to eat Indian. One wants to head into Northern India, and the other wants to go spend a week in a houseboat in Kerala, a state in southwest India. I have no problem talking to strangers, mingling and keeping myself very busy. Budget accommodation and street food are my favorites, although I have been known to spend 5,000 INR (Indian rupees, around 80 USD) on a lobster and 14,000 INR (around $2,300 USD) on a hotel room in Mumbai, as well as similar amounts in other locations. But that is only once in a blue moon. It will, therefore, come as no surprise that on each occasion I have been to India, I have suffered from food poisoning.
Concentrate the mind on the present moment – Buddhist precept
You’ve been to quite a number of places in the world. Can you give us a clearer idea of the range?
I have travelled on business to Swaziland and many other destinations in South Africa. In pursuit of the Buddhist spiritual path, I have been to Germany, Spain and the UK to participate in retreats and festivals. I have an appetite for grassroots communication that has taken me to countries such as Brazil, Thailand, Croatia, Turkey and Lesotho. Meeting people from various cultures has been a great inspiration. According to Trip Advisor, I have been to 18 countries and 115 cities.
I understand you like to disconnect completely when you’re on a trip?
When I travel, I have minimal to nil contact with my home country. I purposely detach myself from everyday life for the time I am away so that I can dissolve into a dreamland of new discoveries and possibilities.
Despite having gone North, South, East and West, you are currently living in your birthplace, Durban, a city of which I have fond memories. It’s so long since I was there! What is life like in your hometown these days?
Durban (Zulu: eThekwini, from itheku, meaning “bay/lagoon’), for those who don’t know it as well as you do, is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the busiest port in South Africa and Africa. Though a major manufacturing hub, it’s also a major centre of tourism because of its subtropical climate and fabulous beaches. I don’t think it’s changed much since you left. We Durbanites have always been “laid back”. Our roads are nowhere near as busy as those in the capital, Johannesburg. The beach is still magnificent for surfers and sun lovers, but swimmers must take care. The surf is big and the sharks bite! It’s never cold as you will know, but often the humidity is high. Let’s see, what else can I tell you? Oh, I know. Durban is the home of the Sharks Rugby Union, who are usually title contenders (rugby being our national sport).
It still sounds like a great place to be, but as I became an adopted Capetonian, I afraid I can’t support the Sharks. It’s the Stormers for me.
Receive the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is… – Buddhist precept
Let’s get down to one of your passions that is fast becoming one of mine, too—photography. First, you have kindly agreed to share three photos that capture some of your favorite memories. Can you describe the story behind each one and what makes them so special for you?
These three photos are from 2009 and 2010, before the photography bug really bit me hard. But they have each etched a place in my heart.
The grim reality of poverty in Kolkata; photo credit: Andy Harvard.
This photograph, taken in Kolkata (aka Calcutta), India, shows an elderly, thin, grey-haired lady in an orange sari. The lady in the white sari, lying curled up on the ground, I’d previously seen walking hunchbacked, slowly and in considerable pain, toward Mother Teresa’s home. I had a strong suspicion she was desperately trying to reach Mother Teresa’s Home for the destitute, sick and dying. I do not recall having ever having seen poverty of this magnitude when walking the main and side roads of South Africa, or anywhere else.
The picture alone tells a tragic story but your explanation adds a lot more. Thank you.
Another view of poverty in Kolkata, slightly more uplifting; photo credit: Andy Harvard.
This photo, also taken in Kolkata, indicates how desperate the lives of some people still are. The driver shovels refuse onto the truck while the crows watch in anticipation of scraps as a lady and her son appear to do so as well. The lady was searching for food and maybe something of value whilst her son sat quietly guarding their personal belongings. The dog, relaxed, watched as drivers constantly hooted and maneuvered around one another. A lot of noise but minimal fuss, no road rage or the time-consuming jams we tend to associate with dense traffic. The Kolkata experience was very brief, but I felt a sense of spirituality here. Small shrines are erected on the sides of most roads—sometimes seen every fifty metres or so. Every person (other than the beggars at the temple), including the crows, dogs and cows appeared to be busy, desperately doing something meaningful in their quest for survival.
Knowing the story behind this photo helps us to appreciate how well you have captured a small corner of peace and quiet surrounded by a cacophony of noise.
The 2010 World Cup quarter-final match Uruguay vs. Spain, held in Durban, SA (Spain won to eventually take home the title); photo credit: Andy Harvard
Spain beat Germany in Durban on 7 July 2010. They reached a World Cup final for the first time and went on to beat Holland in Johannesburg. The only goal in Durban came from a header by Carles Puyol. This was the first time I had witnessed extreme soccer fever, and this photo won a competition in one of Durban’s newspapers.
In this photo you have captured the spirit of the occasion, which is now upon us again in Brazil. Congratulations on your award.
The key to happiness is inner peace – Buddhist precept
Next we’re going to talk about some of your current favorite places to take photographs. Can you explain why these three places inspire you and how it shows in the photos you’ve selected?
1) Huge mountains, deep valleys, tranquillity, big skies, rural living, clean fresh breezes, golden light—Monteseel, in the Valley of One Thousand Hills, makes one realize how small and insignificant certain problems we all have actually are:
Monteseel, in the Valley of 1000 Hills, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.
2) This unspoiled coastline with restricted access is literally around the corner from Durban’s Central Business District, which we call CBD. It’s a photographer’s paradise:
Northern Bluff coastline, Durban, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.
3) Early mornings at this spot are full of activity: surfers, ski boats, fishermen, sailboats, people exercising, seine netters, photographers, holiday makers, recovering late night revellers and more. After a year of hard slogging, I managed to take this serene pier shot:
This photo actually won first place in my photo club’s monthly competition. The chairman said:
Brilliant, love the symmetric composition with a warm and cold side, slightly reminiscent of Turner’s sky in The Fighting Temeraire.
I know that Monteseel is an awesome place, so powerful it’s almost overpowering. It’s a great capture. Your photo of CBD is so dramatic that, although I know how warm the sea is, it looks positively cold. Why have you never shown me this before? It’s awesome. So you had to work a bit to get the last one! Well done.
You should move with a sharp consciousness… – Buddhist precept
Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again, is a powerful force for you?
Yes, but more importantly, photography is the way I choose to meditate. I go into a semi-transcendental state when shooting and later when processing the photos on the computer. I believe the habit dates from my mother’s death in early 2013. When we visited her in hospital, we would all sit on the veranda outside the ward while I took night-time photos. Later, when going through some boxes of photos she had taken in her youth, I learned that she had been a photographer of “social” note. Not long after, I got hooked on HDR photography. I was a member of a Buddhist tradition for two years, attending teachings and meditation classes about 6–7 hours a week. Now my “meditation” is taking photos while a new day dawns in near complete silence and then sitting for hours post-processing photos to create a work of art. It isn’t a job—it’s a passion; and I want to keep it that way and share the results with others.
Thank you, Andy, for sharing such a fascinating personal story. Now for the technical stuff. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Canon 6D, 17/40mm and 24/105mm. I also have my “old” baby Canon 550D which uses either lens above when not in use by “big brother”.
And which software do you use for post-processing?
Which software do I not use? I will use any software available to manipulate my photos to achieve the look I want to see. I know no bounds in this regard. I started with Photomatix HDR software and would attempt to “HDR” everything I could at any time of the day—i.e., dogs, people, machinery and trees. Later I learnt that this was a little foolish but, as I realized when reading this article on the topic, a necessary part of my progression. Lately, I’ve been shooting fewer exposures and manually blending them in Photoshop with layers and masks. I am new at this and on another learning curve.
Sounds like you are a post-processing junkie. I can identify with that and hope to move up to your level when I understand a lot more about the various programs. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Be confident and take charge. Keep the camera in hand or on a sling (not deep in a bag). Take lots of photos and even different angles on the same scene. Go into a tunnel zone where you are only thinking about and taking photos. Get down on the street and get dirty. Find top photographers who you admire and follow them. Study their work and every word on their pages (great tips sometimes come hidden in a few sentences). Look at the best photo you find and think “I can do this and better, it might just take some time”. Some really kind photographers offer free tutorials in video or written format—make the time to find them and work through them.
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Thank you, Andy. I have really enjoyed our interview. Your story is so compelling and you do approach things from a different angle to many of us.
Readers, what do you make of Andy’s experiences and his photography advice? And do you have any questions for him on his photos and/or experiences? Please leave them in the comments!
And if you want to know more about Andy, don’t forget to visit his blog, Snap Fly Cook. You can also connect with him on Facebook and visit his gallery of “special” photos on Pixels.com.
(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!
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