Photographer Michael Poliza was en-route to Madagascar when he stopped by South Africa and, in his own words, ‘fell in love’…
Native to Germany, Poliza ended up settling in Cape Town and used the ‘mother city’ as a base to start work on his first photographic book – AFRICA. Since then Poliza has had many more award winning, African focused books published. I caught up with the man the New York Times once said ‘…might change the way you think about photography’ and grilled him about his love affair with the continent he now calls home.
1. Michael, tell us how you got into photographing Africa?
When I moved to South Africa in 2002, I spent much of my time in the bush. It was then that I started to playfully experiment with photography. I set out to capture a new look to the age old subjects of wildlife and landscape photography.
2. You’ve travelled across the African continent – tell us about a few of your favorite destinations and why?
My personal favorite is the North of Kenya. Lake Turkana, Suguta Valley, Lake Logipi, Aruba Rock, and Chalbi Desert [in Northern Kenya] are all areas that are hard to reach and still totally unspoiled—and stunning.
3. If you had to pick your top 3 photographs of Africa (your own shots), what would they be and why?
There are a few images that I had hoped for and anticipated, like the marching desert elephants (Damaraland, Namibia) and their shadows, shot from the sky. Apart from this, the large cats really do it for me. The portrait of a lion king I took without showing his eyes is one of my favorites. As for landscapes it’s probably the Aruba Rock in Kenya. The magic of this rock, absolutely untouched nature, makes me feel very humble.
4. I understand you have 3 books dedicated to the African continent – AFRICA, EYES OVER AFRICA and CLASSIC AFRICA. Can you tell us how each book differs and what they offer the reader?
There are more! You forgot the books SOUTH AFRICA and KENYA!
AFRICA (2006) – shows the amazing African bio-diversity and some of Africa’s most spectacular landscapes.
EYES OVER AFRICA /2007) – in 2006 I was able to fulfill a long-held dream and undertook a helicopter journey across Africa. With a bird’s-eye view, I witnessed the astounding beauty, scale and diversity of this imposing continent.
SOUTH AFRICA (2009) – is a tribute to one of the world’s most dramatic countries as it prepares to host the 2010 World Football Championship.
CLASSIC AFRICA (2009) – is a duotone interpretation of a selection of my favorite pictures, all taken between 2002 and 2010.
KENYA (2011) – is a mix of aerial shots with dramatic landscapes, vivid animal studies, and portraits of the proud Maasai people.
5. What model camera/s do you shoot with?
I have been shooting on Canon for many years. The pictures from my first book AFRICA were shot with the Canon EOS-1Ds, EYES OVER AFRICA was mostly shot with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, for the ANTARTCTIC book I used Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and I was probably the first one in Germany using the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV.
6. What do you prefer shooting – landscape, portrait or wildlife – and why?
That’s impossible to say. I love nature in general. My motivation is to create some positive emotions toward nature and its creatures. If people look at my photographs and say, ‘Oh this is beautiful – I didn’t know that Africa is still so beautiful,’ then maybe I have made my own tiny contribution to people feeling a little bit more responsible.
7. What photographer do you most admire and how did they help and inspire you?
I had a few friends that were photographers and every once in a while I picked up a tip or two, but most of them were in advertising and working in a studio environment, so that really didn’t help me a lot. But I think it’s fair to say that I owe some inspiration to David Doubilet. His underwater photographic style is atypical. The images have a magical dimension to them – special lighting and special framing. When I moved to South Africa, I spent much of my time in the bush. I started to playfully experiment with my photography and tried to emulate the atypical image compositions of David’s within my own images
8. If you could give a tip to an aspiring photographer in Africa what would it be and why?
Play and experiment and find your own style. Know the rules, apply them, and then break them again and again.
View more photos from Michael Poliza’s Eyes Over Africa in the current edition of Safari here
Find out more about Michael Poliza Photography here
Buy one of Michael Poliza’s books on Africa here