As you Lichen it

2011-10-15 00:00

THE majesty of the Karoo mountains and the beauty of its rocks, flora and even water proved an irresistible lure for British photographer Jennifer Gough-Cooper, who has just released the book Origins — Song of Nooitgedacht.

The coffee-table book, which has 92 images, will be produced in three editions: a collector’s edition with a photogravure plate enclosed, a subscribers’ edition and a standard edition. Only 1 000 copies of the book are being printed.

Based in the southern English county of Kent, Gough-Cooper has loved capturing images on film since she picked up her first Box Brownie as a child and began recording members of the family in the garden of her home.

“My first series of photographs were of the Ile d’Ehbien when I was about 10 years old. It is an island off the coast of Brittany in France where we were on holiday. I took shots of the island from the highest point and other vantage points to capture images of the location itself. This was my first attempt at making a visual description of a place,” she said.

Asked what had inspired Origins — Song of Nooitgedacht, Gough­Cooper says simply: “The valley itself … From my first visit in 2002 I was gripped emotionally by the place, the majesty of the mountains and the beauty of the detail: the rock, the flora, even the water in its different moods which flows through the book.

“It was not until later in my exploration of the valley that I found inspiration for the form of the book.

“One day certain individual rocks in the landscape caught my attention: the surface of one huge boulder resembled our planet as one might imagine it in its molten state straight from the fire of creation; another was scribbled with lines by a mysterious wayward writer; yet another was host to such an incredible pattern of fiery lichen, it appeared like a painting of galaxies travelling in infinite space.

“Clearly, the valley was defined by rock, the ancient bones of the earth, and blessed with life-giving, pure waters flowing from the mountains. This is the story that I have endeavoured to describe with my camera.”

But selecting just which images would make the final cut wasn’t easy.

“It was a mammoth task,” Gough-Cooper admits, “[but it was] made easier when, while visiting the farm on one occasion, I realised what I wanted to communicate.

“This ancient landscape began its evolution at the time of Gondwana, long before man appeared. I have used photos to evoke the beginning of time, such as turbulent waters, molten rock and emerging light.”

Gough-Cooper admits to having developed something of a love affair with South Africa, which she says began in 1948 when she first visited the country as a child.

“Even at a very early age I was drawn to the beauty and variety of the landscape, which touched something deep inside me.”

Among her favourite spots is the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town.

“I spent a winter there taking a series of black and white photographs, culminating in a solo exhibition at the New Visitors’ Centre at Kirstenbosch in 1999,” she adds.

Sadly, an exhibition to tie in with Origins is not on the cards at the moment, but Gough-Cooper herself will be back to uncover more of the country’s beauty.

• Published by Wild Almond Press, Origins — Song of Nooitgedacht comes in three editions and is currently available. To order your copy, e-mail

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