Close to my hometown of Caledon is the 7th largest fresh water catchment dam in South Africa, the Theewaterskloof Dam. With the completion of the dam in the 1980’s, together with farm houses and infrastructure, a forest of pine trees were flooded on the banks of the river and eventually died. These dead trees has become quite famous amongst photographers and provide fantastic photo opportunities when water levels is low. It is a mere half hour drive for me and a favourite shooting location ever since I started photography. I know this landscape like the inside of my hands.
In the beginning 2017, reports started to surface in the media of a drought gripping the Western Cape Province. The Theewaterskloof Dam provide the greater metropol of Cape Town of fresh drinking water and it was at it’s lowest level ever since completion. The water situation was growing dire and the drought proved to be the worst experienced in the area in 100 years.
Having shot a few time lapse clips at this dam at the end of 2016 when it was still 60% full, I decided to travel the 50 kilometers to see the dam’s level for myself. Arriving at the location I was shocked at the devastation a mere 2 months of drought has caused on the water level of the dam and I decided to document the drowned forest which were slowly rising out of it’s watery grave. I also felt an obligation as a photographer to bring the drought closer to home to people who cannot see it for themselves, but also to document a landscape which is usually hidden under water.
In the first half of this short film, I returned to the same compositions I shot 2 months before. My vision was to compare the landscapes and show the devastation of the drought. Having to search and find the exact same tree in a forest of thousands of dead trees proved to be quite difficult. Some of my searches took me hours to find the correct clump of trees again, but comparing the two clips side by side later on I was not disappointed by the effect seen.
The latter part of the film is dedicated to the beauty of the drowned forest. Landscapes which are usually under water and will, with time, be swallowed up again by rising water levels. Who knows how many years before they will arise again. If they arise again… Many trees are at that moment of becoming rotten and of crumbling. This landscape may not be seen again in the future.
This project took me three months to complete. It is now the end of March 2017 and the water situation in the Western Cape is dire. While writing this, the dam’s level is at 20%, 10% of which is usable drinking water. We have a forecasted 60 days of water left and our winter rains is not forecasted to arrive for another 90 days. Everyone is saving water, but it may not be enough to save us from our pipes running dry eventually. Only time will show.
This project has reminded me of life’s yin and yangs. To appreciate the yang in life, we need to experience the yin. Nature is teaching us a lesson. We need to take notice and learn from our mistakes and stop wasting our resources.
Theewaterskloof Dam, Hottentos Holland Nature Reserve, Western Cape Province, South Africa
Behind the scene’s shooting this short film: eepurl.com/cH3a0z
Alexandr Shumalev – Beautiful Dawn
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Cast: Liesel Kershoff