Wild land

Jour­neys of the soul

Sunday Times - - Stinsight -

When Bev­erly and Peter Pick­ford de­cided on their most am­bi­tious project to date, their vi­sion was of such mag­ni­tude that it took a while for them to de­fine the pa­ram­e­ters. The idea was to cap­ture the world’s last wild places. But what cri­te­ria would these des­ti­na­tions need to meet to qual­ify?

One of the things they agreed on was that these lands had to be of a scale that they “evoked fear and re­duced hu­mankind to hu­mil­ity”.

Then how to iden­tify them. As a start­ing point they used Google Earth at night as a tool to pin­point places that had the least light and were thus the most re­mote lo­ca­tions.

The re­sult, four years and all seven con­ti­nents later, is Wild Land, a breath­tak­ing work of pho­tog­ra­phy and dis­cov­ery.

The South African cou­ple, who have been wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers for 35 years, sold their beloved farm in the Cape to help fund the book. Peter writes about how his younger self de­cided not to pur­sue the fam­ily oc­cu­pa­tion of medicine and in­stead he “stepped out the back door into the fields and sun­shine”. He never looked back.

On their odyssey they were ex­posed to ex­tremes: from the mur­der­ous heat of Namibia’s Skele­ton Coast to the frozen peaks of Tibet and Patag­o­nia.

In Antarc­tica these ex­tremes reach their peak with ice up to 4.8km deep in places — in what is the dri­est place on Earth. It’s also the cold­est, with recorded tem­per­a­tures of -89.6°C, and the windi­est, with winds of up to 320km/h.

On the Ti­betan plateau Peter en­coun­tered a lone shep­herdess in a tra­di­tional cloak em­broi­dered in blue and red, dwarfed by a desert where no trees in­ter­rupt the land­scape.

Their 200 pho­to­graphs also il­lu­mi­nate and high­light myr­iad forms of life, among them po­lar bears, desert ele­phants, the yak and king pen­guins.

Un­der­pin­ning their work is a pow­er­ful mes­sage about the state of our planet and our in­abil­ity to see be­yond our own life­times.

THE SKELE­TON COAST AND DESERTS OF AFRICA ELE­PHANT BULL AND COASTAL DUNES, SKELE­TON COAST NA­TIONAL PARK, KAOKOLAND, NAMIBIA The Namib­ian heat was mer­ci­less, like a sword upon an anvil — ‘Earth stands naked. Moun­tains gather bare-headed like mourn­ers at a wake. Slopes draped with cloaks of jum­bled black boul­ders.’ The cou­ple had only seen one desert ele­phant be­fore this trip. Af­ter many days of track­ing spoor they spot­ted a dis­tant herd of ele­phants in an area de­nied to trav­ellers. Just when the Pick­fords were about to give up hope of see­ing them any closer, the herd of 18 walked up a dry river bed. A lone fe­male passed within 2m, so close that it left a mark on the bull bar of their Land Rover. Desert ele­phants sur­vive by eat­ing mois­ture-laden veg­e­ta­tion grow­ing in riverbeds, and can go sev­eral days with­out drink­ing wa­ter. They de­stroy fewer trees than ele­phants liv­ing in higher rain­fall ar­eas in other parts of Africa.

Wild Land by Peter and Bev­erly Pick­ford is pub­lished by Book­storm, R985

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