Travel Blog

David Ballam, photography, black mambas and waking up under mosquito nets Back
David Ballam, photography, black mambas and waking up under mosquito nets
15 July, 2015

David Ballam is a true artist explorer, a photographer on the hunt for that next great shot. It’s no surprise that his work has found a home in our Kramerville warehouse. Alongside good coffee and a game of darts, Dave has an appreciation for solitude. His lone-ranger instinct has led him all over the world. “New faces, new places, different languages, different cultures and customs – I find it all very intriguing, insightful and inspiring!” – David Ballam

David has just returned from the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, we can’t wait to see his latest series of images! But, in the meantime here are some behind-the-scenes shots, and a little insight into the life of David!

When did you take your first photograph?

I must have been about 7 years old. I was in the Kruger National Park with my dad and we came across a herd of wildebeest. My old man asked me to take a photograph with his 1981 Canon F-1. I fired off a couple of frames and we drove on. Later he asked me if the exposure needle was in the correct position, to which I replied “The what? Where?” 

Needless to say my first photograph was a completely underexposed blank!

How would you describe your photography style?

Well, I was taught from the absolute basics up and have a great appreciation for the classic principles of photography, of image making and image taking. If you don’t know the rules it’s hard to break them. 

I am not really too concerned whether it’s a landscape, a still life, a portrait or a zebra, there are always going to be conscious decisions that have to be made. I often find that it is the environment and the subject matter that largely determine the style in which one photographs.

All that said, I do enjoy working with high contrast black and white imagery and I do prefer as much natural lighting as possible.

Your favourite subject matter?

Anything that stays relatively still and does not want to have a conversation with me! I am not a people-person, I do not make conversation easily and when I’m shooting I generally like to be alone. This probably explains my tendency to photograph landscapes and still lives. 

I enjoy spending time with my subject matter, be it a view from the top of the Swartberg Pass or a set of kudu horns. I also have an attraction to subject matter that is broken, rusted or dead. Objects that have gone beyond their intended use or being.

Tell us about your favourite photograph and the story behind it.

During my final year of studies I put together a hand printed collaged landscape that ended up being 2m x 2.6m in size. Over 10 days I went back to the same site on top of a hill and shot the same scene but changed the props and shot under different lighting conditions. 

I ended up with a pile of negatives from which I selected different aspects to print for the collage. It was just fantastic to spend so much time in one place and notice how different elements can completely change what is essentially the same landscape. The work still hangs heavy and proud in my lounge!

What motivates you to continue taking pictures?

Obie Oberholzer once told me, “Boy, you are only as good as your last shot!”

I am still not sure if he was quoting someone, but his message still rings in my head. Photography can become an addiction. You find yourself instinctively composing scenes around you, checking how the light is falling on your cup of coffee and constantly attempting to visualise how scenarios will translate on a two dimensional surface – and this is without a camera in hand. 

One never knows what could be round the next corner and it’s this that I find very motivating. I’m also not very good at much else.

Your travels have taken you to many dangerous places; describe your most hair-raising experience?

A few years ago I was photographing a lodge in Zimbabwe, hours away from any town or city. I was composing an early morning shot of the entrance when I realised I needed to move a light but would need an extra extension cable. I went back to my room and I was about to pick up my “extension cable” when half the coil unravelled and a black mamba slithered across the room. Now that was pretty hair-raising!

Describe your ideal day?

I love waking up under mosquito nets. It’s normally a sign that I’m somewhere exciting. Add to this a great cup of coffee or three and the recipe is off to a good start. Jumping in the car and heading to a new destination where there are sights I’ve never seen, preferably on a dirt road where there is little chance of seeing anyone else. A crumbling farmhouse, a rusted coke can, a solitary acacia and an afternoon thunderstorm are all necessary ingredients. A wood burning fire, a sky full of stars and the sound of an owl hoot. 

Simple, yet but pretty damn close to ideal!

 

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