To Dream in the Desert

It’s about ten to four on a Monday afternoon in Swakopmund and we’re trying to outrun the sun.

Willem has his eyes on the road and is rambling on about how it makes sense to take photos at the dunes before we head to a bridge and his young model nods in agreement while I sit in the back of his 1999 Toyota Camry wondering if I should be taking notes.

Instead I peer over the front seat at a sixteen year old girl in a short black skirt and a sea green top and figure she looks pretty good.

Not just in the way one would if they had their make-up done by an alumni of a South American circus but also because she’s just wrapping her head around the idea that she may be good looking in that knowingly naïve way that continues to launch sex offenders into  a world of trouble.

Willem’s been taking photographs for as long as I have known him.

He used to make a living taking pictures of people behind smudged tumblers on cruise ships and this has given him the patience to work with amateurs but also offered him the opportunity to dazzlingly photograph some of the most disparate sights in the world which has dually developed and demonized him.

For now he is back in Namibia and fighting the good fight against anyone feigning photographer by virtue of owning a DSLR and Adobe Photoshop. He’s paying the bills by taking pictures of men and women with money to burn on a state-of-the art Facebook photos and that is how he met *Tania.

At just sixteen Tania is thumbing a BlackBerry so much better than my own it makes mine look like the prototype for Nokia’s 3310.  My rudimentary maths tells me she paid 250 for make-up and 800 for the shoot and I quickly (incorrectly) place her family in the class of “ballin.”

Though Willem mumbles about light, flamingos and the scourge of the East wind, Tania says very little until he mentions her being photographed on a bridge. Then she stops typing, turns a little pale under her bronzer and admits that she’s afraid of heights.

To dilute the situation, I tell her it won’t be that high and Willem buoys my assertion by saying it’s pretty high and also kind of rusted and broken.  This, I assume, is supposed to excite her based on the textures and authenticity that will elevate her photos but the fact that she has no further comment tells me that Willem should never so much as think about a career in  reassurance.

Following some mad map that only exists in his head, Willem speeds across the desert like he’s in the Rav 4 he hopes to buy when creativity becomes lucrative. Naturally, we drive right past a sign that says “No off Road Driving” and only do so by making a screeching u-turn which is soon protested by the solid thud of a rock to his Camry’s under belly.

Soon there is nothing.

It’s like being on the moon or in a Frank Herbert novel.

Sand stretches out in every direction as though the world was just a figment of our imagination and the sun burns like it may very well be life, the universe and everything.

“The sun is at a nice angle to photograph the dunes. The shadows look nice,” says Willem cryptically. Whatever he means I am grateful for them. They multiply our trio to six and I feel less like we are sole survivors.

With little fuss and more authority than I am used to, Willem tells Tania to take off her patent leather stilettos and we walk towards the spot he has chosen with haste. He makes us walk in a wide arc so our tracks aren’t in the shot and as he tests the light, positions the model and asks me to help with a reflector; I think it’s all very clever.

“Look there’ll be a hundred terrible ones and about ten good ones. That happens whether you’re a professional or first timer. So try not to worry,” he says to Tania who is a little nervous.

The rest is rapid fire clicking and advice of:

“Look a little cold. Look a little vulnerable. Don’t just walk. Think about it. Look towards the sun.”

Tania is like an automaton obeying his every command and suddenly I understand why the job could be appealing… for a man.

Twilight creeps up over plenty of hair-fixing and standing about and soon I lose interest.

The car sparkles in the distance. Shadows are twice their size, foot prints look forged by giants and a plane hums overhead.

A sigh of “Ah fuck it,” brings me out of my gazing and I notice the light has faded and thwarted this part of the affair. We trek back to the car and bump along to the bridge.

Tania the model with the fear of heights goes quiet.

“We’ll see how afraid of heights you are,” says Willem as we both stare at the curved bridge arched 50 metres high and silently morphing into a symbol of our fears of being a model, a writer and a photographer.

We hesitate for just a beat.

Tania places her foot on the first rung of the ladder and leads the way towards sudden death below…and the whole world for the taking above.