It has been a good year.
Long and stressful at times but all in all it has been a year where things came together.
The end of a journey and the start of another.
A year where possibilities became reality.
At this time of year we start seeing the Top 10 lists of pretty much everything and for a small while I did think about doing my ‘Top 10 images of 2011’ post but no. Apart from having to make a call and where one image is better, or means more, than another – and the fact that it has been done to death – I have decided to simply take a few moments and reflect on the moments that have helped define my last twelve months.
The moments I remember.
The special moments.
One of the quotes that come to mind is “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” I reckon it’s more than that. It’s not just about those big moments that knock you in the guts and leaves your head spinning.
There is also something to be said for those quiet, almost subtle, moments where you blink, look around and think to yourself “this is pretty damn cool”. I love those moments as they are the ones that when combined with an image brings back all the emotions, thoughts and good times that were associated with it.
With that being said, I decided to take a visual look back at some of my 2011 moments. These images might not be perfect, and most of them I have not posted or used anywhere else but to me they are reminders of a great year. Of moments where I blinked, sat back and thought damn, this is pretty cool!
In the few first days of January I sat on the opposite side of the waterhole of the lodge I was managing at the time photographing a large pack of Wild Dogs. It was a great start to the year that would end up taking me on a helluva ride!
The Kgalagadi is a special place and in January I visited it for the first time with some great friends. More than just a few magical moments during this week.
I love travelling and have been privileged enough to visit more than 200 cities across the globe. This image was on Adele and my last trip to Bangkok where we visited the ancient city of Ayutthaya.
Whenever you travel a few things happen. I believe you become more aware of your surroundings. You pay more attention to the sites, smells and sounds which all adds to experiencing a new country.
And then… you get to go home to South Africa again!
In April it become evident that there were some big changes coming up for Adele and I. When you work and live at a lodge, a change of career is not as simple as moving to a new office. It involves a massive lifestyle change. On this particular morning I head out before sunrise – all on my own – to go and photograph some birds at a dam in Madikwe.
Spending time by yourself in such a beautiful environment makes your head do all kind of funny things. Thinking back, it was on this morning that I knew things were going to change and that I was going to give the changes a full go!
The above lion image was taken on a morning where my dad and I headed out to photograph whatever Madikwe would show us. Knowing that things are going to change gives you a new perspective and appreciation of things you normally take for granted.
This morning I appreciated being able to spend time out in the wild, with my dad, and do what I love.
Without a doubt, this has to be the most special sighting I had in my 6 year stay in Madikwe. As this sighting progressed for more than an hour I stopped for a second, looked around and thought to myself “this is f*ckin awesome!!”
This was a truly special morning spent with two great friends. Gavin, Grant and I arrived at Tlou Dam in Madikwe just after 03h00 in the morning to photograph stars. The clouds moved in and made for a morning that was like something out of a movie.
Walking around in pitch darkness in a Big 5 reserve photographing the African skies is something I will never forget and is probably one of my most cherished memories from my time in Madikwe.
I took this image about two weeks before leaving Madikwe. I was having a moment and as with any big, life-changing decisions I started doubting myself. Was I doing the right thing?
I took my camera and headed out to an old dead leadwood which was supposed to be the focus of my confused attention. As I was photographing the tree and stars a large male lion decided to join the photographic action.
It all happened so quickly but the moment will last for a long long time. Oh, and I felt much better when I got back to the lodge.
After having working in the wildlife industry for 6 years and visiting game parks since I was a little boy, I saw my ever first Pangolin a few weeks before leaving Madikwe. And then my second one a few days later!
These enigmatic little creatures have attained near mythical status as sightings of them are few and far between. Laying on the floor taking pictures of this one had to just pause to appreciate the special moment we were all sharing.
This was another special moment for me. With the rhino poaching situation being, well, a disaster it was great to be able to get involved and actually do something. Always listening to people bitching and moaning about how bad things are gets old.
There was a moment during the morning where we micro chipped and notched four different rhinos that it felt good to be able to actually do something. To hopefully make difference.
Doing is, most of the time, a helluva lot better than talking.
This is the last image I took in Madikwe. By this time my time of working and living in the reserve was over and all that was left to do was get in the car the next morning and start my next exciting journey.
Many people have asked if I don’t miss living and working in the bush? It is such a difficult question.
Do I miss living in the bush? Absolutely. Everything from the clean air and birds to waking up with lions roaring and elephants at the waterhole is a privilege and something that I suppose anybody would miss. And the people? Awesome!
Do I miss working in the bush? Nope. Sure, there is something to be said for having the chance to photograph wildlife each day and show people the wonders of the African wilderness – and make no mistake it is awesome – but for me the fact that there is no future started grinding me.
Ok, that might sound harsh but to me it felt like all the ambition I had, all the ideas and passion I wanted to share was stunted. After spending a while in the bush you start living in a very safe and comfortable bubble and this is what makes it difficult for a lot of people to make the move back to the ‘real’ world and start a new career.
Do I have any regrets about workingin the bush? About leaving? Not a single one!
In the end it is a combination of all of these things that played a part in the change that was to follow and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since we started Wild Eye a lot has happened – a lot – and I can think of many more moments that stand out. The Masai Mara. Chobe. Our office opening. The community.
The list goes on and on but for me 2011 will always be a year of change. A year where a combination of factors allowed me to change my lifestyle share my passion and join forces with to great guys in order to create something special. And to think, we’ve only just begun!
So as this year comes to an end I would like to thank you all for your support throughout the last year. It is amazing to know that there are so many people out there who enjoy the images, the updates and share a passion for wildlife photography and nature. I look forward to continue sharing the experience, moments and passion with you all in 2012.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year!
Gerry van der Walt
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