Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Moving Home - by Nick van der Leek

On around the 20th of May I left Cape Town on a trip that was essentially organised around a presentation on energy I was invited to give at Wits university.  Little did I know that the 3-4 weeks spent with friends and family in Pretoria, Johannesburg and in Bloemfontein would be transformative.  For starters, I did photographic shoots every other day while in Centurion, thanks to a very good networker I was staying with.  Family shoots opened my eyes to just one area of new possibilities as a freelancer.  I also met the young world class athlete, Stephanie Wicksell, who is sponsored by Nike.  I always find photographing exceptional athletes inspiring, but Stephanie is extra special.  She somehow seems more gazelle than human, extremely light limbed, and her champion DNA is chock-filled with potential.  Subsequent to the shoot her father - Ray Wicksell - asked me to represent Stephanie and I quickly got her exposure in two magazines and counting.  But this was another area and another possibility that had emerged whilst on the road.

In Bloemfontein, another radical experience was waiting for me.  I went in pursuit of material of an artist known as Vader Claerhout, who is famous in the Free State.  In that singular day traipsing around the backyards of Free State towns I'd never visited before, I discovered a particularly special human being, who left an imprint not only on the landscape, but on the psyche.  I have lived in the Free State for much of my life, and for much of it wanted to be elsewhere.  But these days I find the penetrable expanses peaceful and calming.  I enjoy the lack of the human presence.  In Claerhout I saw the beauty and suffering of the Free State captured within a divine interpretation.  More than anything, Claerhout's celebration of life's color, and diversity, the beauty in the everyday, is what really touched me.

I also had the opportunity while I was in Bloemfontein for much needed bonding with my family, especially my sister, who is one of the top 3 students in design in Architecture at Free State university.  Building is in the blood of the van der Leek's, going back several generations.  I studied it and although my circuitous path has taken me into photography and writing, I often revert back to the importance of urbanism, and being deliberate rather than random about our living arrangements.  Some of my recent writing reflects this. My father and I did the Claerhout trip together; what made it interesting was that he had met Claerhout and bought paintings from the artist himself several years after my grandfather had bought his three children, including my father, each a painting.  Claerhout is an impressive human being in that he gave completely of himself, and as a freelancer, it is hard to find a more solid figure to be inspired by.  He came from Belgium and made a success in the rural Free State during Apartheid.  And everybody loved him.

Much more happened in the 3-4 weeks while I was on tour, some of which I won't reveal just now, but the most potent realisation was probably that I am now successfully making a go of the freelance life.  It has taken a few months to build a regular routine of work and to develop a steady-ish income, and of course it is incredibly satisfying to see so much progress in such a short period.  I need to continue to leverage my success, and I am certainly nowhere near my ultimate destination, but it is gratifying to realise that I am starting to hit the mark more and more often.  I cast my mind back to a conversation I had with another freelancer some readers may have heard of, Gus Silber.  When I spoke to him of freelancing, a vocation I considered a little far fetched in practise, he said that I had the advantage of more than one skill to rely one.  This has certainly helped, because I am not sure if writing alone would have gotten me off to such a rapid start, or, to be fair, photography on its own.  Both activities are very me, but the photography helps me to get out of the house, something I am loathe to do when I am 'in the zone' writing-wise.

I must admit, at the same time, that social media has empowered my efforts to a large extent, giving me massive exposure to editors and other industry players that would otherwise have taken years to get to know via ordinary social mechanisms.

My plans going forward are to return to Bloemfontein, a choice I have made with surprisingly little resistance.  In fact, as I sit here writing, I am eager to be in the Free State.  Perhaps it is the Cape winter, perhaps it is the immediately company I have kept here, but being away has infused me with vigor, inspiration and a brand new motivation.  What is somewhat problematic, and unknown at this time, is that I intended launching an Artists Winelands tour, and moving back to the Free State now poses additional questions on how to launch that.  It is possible that I might begin with an Artists Free State tour instead, focusing on Claerhout, and based on the success of this smaller enterprise, branch out to the Cape.  I had hoped I could rely on the iniatives of a photographic safari couple, but I sense more fear rather than the will to try.

I am aiming to make a gradual transition to Bloemfontein from Cape Town. However this may be too much to hope for as efforts are taking place, actively, at the present moment, to expedite my evacuation.  I don't have much of an appetite for dirty tricks and the sort of white trash behaviour associated with trying to make a place unlivable.  Even so, I do still have a few commitments in Cape Town, including scheduled interviews, a hotel review in Montagu, and a meeting with ASPO-SA on the 30th that I'm disinclined to miss.  I suppose upon my exit I will dump some of my possessions behind again, my bed for starters.  Hopefully I will be able to find a use for my surfboard.  I'm looking forward to a new chapter in the Free State, in the company of genuine friends and family, and a special someone else that I will still tell you about.

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