New Internationalist

Helga Kohl

June 2007
Helga Kohl
Helga Kohl

The ghost town of Kolmanskop is one of Namibia’s most famous relics. Situated between Luderitz and the Bogenfels rock arch on the southern Atlantic coast, it is one of many former diamond settlements that lie disintegrating in the sands of the Sperrgebiet.

My relationship with the world of Kolmanskop started one afternoon in 1971.

The notorious Southwester wind had created an inferno of sand and dust that was so intense, it was difficult to set one foot in front of the other. It was amidst this storm that I first made my acquaintance with this unique place and a bond was born that would cause me to return again and again to this strange, haunted ghost-like place in the desert. Many gruelling and obsessive hours have I spent in quiet contemplation and companionship with Kolmanskop. The result of this union is shown in my photographic portraits.

I returned many times over the years and carefully scrutinized each house, I examined every corner and noted every hole in every roof and wall. Much of my time was spent simply watching the shifting of the dunes in the rooms as I examined them all through the various open windows and doors. I sat in the room and listened to the wind. I observed the play of shadow and light with the beautiful colours of the walls. It was in these moments of solitude that I transformed myself into the past, and in so doing saw a life which somehow brought a profound understanding of the present.

The circle of life is truly apparent in Kolmanskop. As the Southwester wind blew in the past, so it does in the present and it will continue to do in the future. As the wind subsides, the heat of the sun on the parched desert is stifling and it is when the North wind blows from the sea that a moisture-laden fog rolls over the landscape to bring relief and sustenance. Nature is very much in control. One day I knew I was ready to capture the beauty once created by people and taken over by nature.

Space, colour and light are the basic elements of my composition.

Helga Kohl is a Namibian photographer.

This column was published in the June 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 401

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