Succulents and fynbos
Since Platteland talked with Filipa two years ago (Platteland #23, Winter 2019), she has gone from strength to strength. She was invited to share her knowledge and passion on CNN Africa and in a TEDx Talk, Business Insider named her as one of the top 10 iPhone photographers in South Africa, and Smeg featured four of her images on a limited-edition range of fridges. Moreover, she has expanded her photographic subjects from garden succulents to quiver trees and other endangered plants in the wild.
In your TEDx Talk “A photographer’s crazy, beautiful love affair with succulent plants”, it sounds as though you’ve grown from someone who appreciates the appeal of succulents to someone who has really got to know the plants.
When I started photographing succulents, I didn’t know anything about them. I was, however, amazed by their unique beauty – but as I learnt more about every plant I photographed I became increasingly obsessed by them. So often I think the mere fact that succulents exist today is actually mind-boggling. It is astounding how they were able to adapt over thousands of years to survive changing soil, temperature and drought conditions.
How do you choose the plants you photograph?
Initially I only took photos of my own succulents, and once I’d worked my way through all of them, I started looking at other people’s collections. Then I decided to photograph plants in their natural habitat, and so I’ve had the privilege to meet many plant enthusiasts and experts, and to learn a lot about each plant. It has been a process of growth for me.
You are also passionate about plant conservation?
Over the past few months, conservation expert Alex Lansdowne and I have been working together on a project to create awareness about endemic plant species that are on the verge of extinction. It is important to me to use my platform to spread the joy of plants. I am also busy with a series of photos of quiver trees, with the aim of drawing attention to the impact of climate change.
Why do you prefer a cellphone over a camera?
It is much easier to simply carry my phone with me, especially if I am taking photographs in the veld. It is also much more cost-effective to use. The quality of the photographs are excellent – in my view, even better than that of most large cameras – yet the files aren’t as large and therefore easier to handle and store. I don’t use any special effects, but I have already learnt a lot about how to optimally use natural light.
What are some of the challenges to photographing plants in the veld?
I love seeing plants grow in their natural habitat. You can learn and appreciate so much more about the plant. Wind is the biggest headache, without a doubt. The most gentle breeze causes the black fabric backdrop to flap about or even disturb the plant, so it’s a battle to achieve sharp focus. The other major challenge is getting good natural light – that is all I use when taking photographs.
Why do you think house plants are so popular at the moment?
I believe people have a need, now more than ever, to live closer to nature. To keep plants in your home is also therapeutic. Plants are available in so many different sizes and shapes and colours, and you can’t help but develop a bond with them. If you have house plants, you have to learn about their light and water requirements. You have to take care of them. They force you to slow down.