Painting with light

Debi Diedericks

‘Have you ever driven a car on a flat piece of land as fast as you can blindfolded?” Obie Oberholzer asks. I shake my head. “The longest I’ve lasted

was four minutes.” That is the spirit of famous South African photographer Obie

Oberholzer whose work work will be on exhibit at the Standard Bank National Arts


Oberholzer’s latest exhibition has no specific theme. Most of the prints are

taken from his book, Raconteur Road, which takes the reader on a journey through

Kenya, Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, the Drakensberg, Grahamstown, the Overberg,

the Hantam Karoo and Lderitz in Namibia, but some of the photos on exhibit are

shot in Papua New Guinea.

What makes this exhibition different from Oberholzer’s previous ones is the size

of the prints most are 70x90cm and six are 1,20×1,70m and the printing process. The prints are scanned into a high-resolution scanner. All corrections

are done digitally and the data is sent to a digital printer. An optical nozzle

with paint transverses the surface hundreds of times according to the digital

information, and the result is an enlargement of the original print.

But not only Oberholzer’s prints will be on show. He has included three- dimensional objects, mostly found on the Skeleton Coast between Swakopmund and

the Kunene river. These include a beautiful piece of burned-out stinkwood, an

elephant femur gnawed by jackal, wind-blown bottles found in the ghost towns of

the Skeleton Coast, and fossilised mussels and oysters.

Oberholzer was born in 1947 on a farm outside Pretoria. At the age of 15 he stepped out of the Dutch Reformed Church because the dominee would not allow his

black friend, Philemon, to sit inside the church the sermon was on the love of God.

He studied and failed graphic design at the University of Stellenbosch and married at the age of 23. Oberholzer eventually obtained his master’s in photography at the Bavarian State Institute of Photography in Munich in 1979.

In 1983 he moved to Grahamstown, where he took up a post at Rhodes University as lecturer in photography.

“I photograph what I love, let’s not worry about the art,” says Oberholzer, quoting Andr Kertesz, one of a group of photographers in the early 20th century

who revolutionised photography by taking photographs of his immediate environment and not just copying paintings. This coincided with the invention of the 35mm camera, which allowed photographers to shoot with much more freedom

because they didn’t have to struggle with the old, bulky cameras.

Oberholzer says he has “an unbelievable passion to travel”. Clearly the titles

of his five books tell a story of their own: Ariesfontein to Zuurfontein, Southern Circle, To Hell ‘n Gone, Beyond Bagamoyo and Raconteur Road. Each takes

the reader on a photographic journey through Africa.

What makes Oberholzer a good photographer? “I’m a good photographer because I

can place things, coordinate images.” What makes Oberholzer a great photographer? His passion for people and colour and stories. His love for life.

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