Obie Oberholzer gives us the new selfie. It’s called the shadie
The relief of being home again washed over me with the incoming foam-capped waves, breaking and rolling over my feelings of happiness. Yet, I was splashed by a salty unease that lay churned up somewhere inside of me. I was in the waters of the Indian Ocean, just back from another weird and distant world. Cambodia. One highlight in this complex country was the enthralment of photographing the biggest religious complex built by mankind, the Hindu temples of Angkor Wat.
Here, over a 400 square-kilometre area, the jungles of Southeast
Asia hug hundreds of sandstone temples. Soon after the gates to the world of ancient wonder open, waves of tourists, mostly Chinese, spill over the main temple of Angkor Wat in their thousands. It is now estimated that almost three million tourists visit this UNESCO World Heritage site every year.
I witnessed for myself how cellphone photography has become the world’s biggest hobby. Even worse, that man’s quest for self-importance and immortality emerges in the taking of selfies. Most tourists care little for the beauty of this ancient wonder, built by the Khmer Empire that existed here between the 9th and 11th centuries. In front of each strangler-fig-entwined temple, smiling faces looked back at a cellphone for millions at home to gawk at.
Excessive cellphone self-portrayal has become a global pandemic. My shock at these scenes drove me further into the temple jungles, for here, indeed, I could find some solace in one of the greatest places on Earth.
When I was a boy on our farm near Cullinan, I was always aware of how my shadow followed me during the passing of the day. My mother, a German-American, once told me of an old Indian tribal legend that said, ‘A man with no shadow is a dead man’. In the 1960s I started doing images of my shadow. I called them ‘shadies’ back then. It never became a popular hobby, and most people thought that it blended well with my often weird and shady personality.
Two days ago, in a search for another image, I came across this picture, a shadie done on one of the most isolated gravel roads in South Africa in ! "# dust between Noenieput and Vrouenspan in the Northern Cape. Weird, how the memory of this scene came dusting back to me.
While I was balancing on one fence pole, photographing myself shooting my shadow shooting another pole’s shadow, a passing farmer stopped his bakkie and watched me for a while. Then he shouted, “What the bleddie hell are you doing up on that pole?” Two crows, sitting above me on a single telephone wire also squawked quizzingly down at me. “Well, Meneer,” I said, “I am trying to balance out the fact that the good side of me wants to continue north and my shadowy side wants to go back to the women of Vrouenspan.”
He stood there a while longer, shaking his head, then he shouted the most wonderfully bad word in the Afrikaans language. I fell off the pole and the crows shrieked up into the pale blue heavens above.