into the flames

Having travelled for so many years I'm often asked where is the most beautiful place I've been, I'm extremely lucky that I've seen many, but what has made any place special for me is the people I meet and they are not always in these beautiful places.

The Tankwa desert, home to the AfrikaBurn event is one of those incredibly beautiful places, it can take a little getting used to, but a few storms, sunrise's and sunset's there, under large African skies will make even city lovers swoon..

Add a few thousand people to this place, an alternative, open, friendly community that builds art installations, some reaching 30 metres to the stars before setting them alight to burn them down, creates a combination of place and people that is a unique experience. 

Initially attending to document one particular art installation I started becoming friends with many as I photographed not only the art but also the multitude of weird, wonderful, creative, colourful characters.

Wanting to document in a different way from the imagery I had seen and looking to see what I had to hand I decided to utilise a powerful ring flash that I used occasionally for beauty work. This helped showcase the colourful costumes and festival wear many people wore and allowed me to shoot directly into the sun and overpower it to help create dramatic portraits. 

For many years I was known as a portrait photographer, capturing thousands of images of strangers and friends which were gifted back to the community, in between duties with my build crew Fata Morgana that created Lizzy the T-Rex, and heading up the photography portfolio for the organisation, I managed to continue capturing a few other images.

The book 'Burn' that has been released and the exhibition 'Into the Flames' are a record of my personal photographic journey with this community, including a trip to Burning Man in America with a large group of South African artists to put on a fire theatre show to the crowds in the Black Rock desert in Nevada.

The exhibition coinciding with the book launch is a tribute to the builders of the largest art pieces, their names often lost in the dust of the Tankwa, but their installations form part of a collective memory each year. Built without heavy lifting gear and with blood, sweat and tears, these unique and awe inspiring works are celebrated here, but also to help inspire both old and new creators.

I would love to see a book that documents the history of the AfrikaBurn, a collaboration of many different photographers, in the meantime I invite you to join me on my photographic journey into the world of ‘Burners’ with the book  'Burn - Into the flames of burning art’, and the exhibition, ‘Into the flames’.

May both spark wonderful memories and stories, which was the intention.

S. O’Callaghan


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