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Award Winning AV - The Bushmen of the Kalahari by Lisa Bukalders, 18 Dec 2021

Award winning Audio Visual sequence by Lisa Bukalders - The Bushmen of the Kalahari, 18 Dec 2021
I had a vague idea for this AV for a while, but couldn’t get the ideas from my head into a tangible form. I originally intended to focus on the cave paintings and the wildlife. I’ve visited several sites with bushmen cave paintings over the years, the Tsodilo Hills in Botswana, the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa, and several sites in Namibia. I was always impressed by how accurate the drawings were, and instantly recognisable as the animals they represent.

I like to keep a record of the wildlife we see on our travels, and have amassed folders full of wildlife images (few of which are competition standard) and I realised I had photos which pretty much matched the drawings, so the idea was formed but I had to find a way to make it work.

At first I tried to superimpose my photos onto rocks to mimic the cave paintings, but that didn’t work. I decided on side-by-side images, and then ‘aged’ the animal images to get some consistency of style, and a hint of ‘otherworldliness’.

I then felt that just using the rock paintings and animals wasn’t enough, what about the people who created the paintings? Back in 2009 we spent some time with the Bushmen who were gathered in a small temporary settlement where we were camping. We had a fabulous day walking with the Bushmen whilst they gathered food and explained how they use certain plants, then made a fire and cooked various items of bush food for us (I say they cooked, it didn’t mean I ate the kudu meat which had been carried around in a hunter’s pouch all day …). They were gathering food ‘for real’, not just for show. The day ended with traditional dancing round the fire. The whole community came along, the kids joined in enthusiastically. We usually shy away from ‘cultural encounters’, this was something totally natural and you didn’t feel that you were intruding, on the contrary they were so happy to be able to show us their traditional ways, and did so with such good humour and obvious enjoyment. It was a privilege to share a day with these kind, gentle and welcoming people.

I am generally not comfortable taking ‘people pictures’, but I took a few on my compact camera to remember the day. The light was terribly bright, and created deep shadows and shiny skin. And later in the afternoon the dancing round the fire was either in deep shade or bright light. No RAW images, I didn’t have an inkling in 2009 that I might want to do ‘proper’ photography one day! But my idea was to use these images to link the lives of the Bushmen with their way of life and art. This was the most difficult part of the processing. I spent a good few hours experimenting, and eventually found a way to desaturate the image to even out the skin tones, and at the same time add some colour and textures to give an antique look, (and no, just using filters didn’t work!). Then some more adjustments to match them up with the animal images.

I had to find a way to link the bushmen with the rock art – I eventually came up with the idea of linking through the fire. I had no idea if I could superimpose flickering fire onto still images, but I filmed our log fire at home and by trial and much error managed a sequence I was happy with.

I felt I needed some African landscapes to lead in to the story and set the scene, and that was the storyline complete.

And the music? The dance chanting was a track from my own video recordings on the compact camera. The rest of the soundtrack was more problematic than I imagined. Southern African music in general is pretty upbeat, and somehow noisy, I couldn’t find what I wanted. I Googled various combinations of ‘Africa/atmospheric/instrumental’ etc and eventually found two pieces I liked. The only potential problem was that one was North African (Sheffy Oren Bach - 'Lakota') and one was East African (Kawesa - 'Voice of the Forgotten') – but I thought they were so obscure that no-one would know and did it matter? On my first ‘judgement day’ at the WCPF competition, I was astonished that the judge picked up on the music and named it, and I subsequently discovered there are several apps to help you identify a piece of music. (By the way, you are not allowed to name the musician/band on your AV in UK competitions, but can name the music). Did it matter that the music was not specific to that area? This judge didn’t think so. In later competitions judges have made a point of saying that the music should have been from Southern Africa to match the images ... I personally don’t think it should matter, it hasn’t affected the success of the BBC’s Planet Earth TV series using Icelandic music from Sigur Ros. But then again I’m not a judge!!

This was the comment from the WCPF judge: "This is a good example of an AV that should definitely be seen on a big screen and I can assure you it has even more impact when you do. The music, "Lakota" takes us straight to Africa. The photography, especially the stunning portraits of these handsome people, is exceptional. Throughout the sequence the colour palette has been harmonised to this perfect sandy sepia colour, which gives the whole sequence a timeless quality. There is an incredible matching of the ancient rock paintings and the author's actual photographs of the wildlife and landscape. Even the script typeface used for the title, and the information, just enough, for us to know what we are about to experience, is just right. It is a privilege to be allowed to photograph these beautiful and dignified people, and for us to share in their ceremonies and way of life."

This AV went on to do quite well in other competitions, I have to say I was surprised because it doesn’t have any fancy transitions, the photos are not that good (some jpegs from my first digital camera in 2003 were 300KB), and for some reason in the ‘open’ competitions, AVs with spoken dialogue usually seem to be more highly rated than those without, the perception being that they are more difficult to make. In this category, the competition from traditional AVs with dialogue and story-telling is really tough. I was just glad it wasn’t up against Jane and Stephen Lee in the Photo Harmony section!

I enjoy the creative process and the experimentation with techniques but another ‘eye’ is enormously beneficial in case you’ve lost your way, (what’s in my imagination doesn’t always translate to the sequence). Jane and Stephen have always been very generous with their advice and encouragement. They have a fantastic eye for detail, and with their help I have (hopefully) avoided some of the rookie pitfalls of too-fast/slow transitions, too much text, irritating fonts, and the like, which all comes with experience (I hope!).

You can now all enjoy this fantastic AV on YouTube, where Lisa has shared it.

~ Lisa Bukalders