|Water lilies, Okavango Delta, Botswana
One of the greatest challenges in photography to me is to define a personal point of view. During my work in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, I looked for ways to capture the essence of this great wetland and my own response to the wonder of it. The Okavango covers thousands of square miles, but it is really just a thin sheet of water stretched across the sands of the Kalahari. The delta’s water lilies drew me in because they symbolize life made possible by water in this dry land. I photographed lilies covering lakes and giving shelter to an array of animal life, but I was searching for something more lyrical. One day I looked down in a clear lagoon and noticed how a patch of lilies was anchored in desert sand. An idea took hold. I plunged into the swamp.
Actually, I slipped in. Quietly. Crocodiles abound here. While an assistant stood guard in a small boat, I sank to the bottom with a camera encased in a bubble-shaped underwater housing. I held my breath on each dive, which allowed for less than a minute at the bottom. It took many attempts and the better part of a day for the image to become refined. I was intrigued by the sinuous curves of the lily stems. In an interesting reversal of the maxim about magic light peaking around sunrise and sunset, underwater photography conditions get better towards high noon, when light penetrates farther into the depths. By the time I had figured out solutions to the technical problems of this shot, the midday sun backlit the lily pads suspended at the water’s surface.
From the bottom of the swamp I saw that the lilies told a larger story, about the anomaly of water in the desert. In one sense the margin for life was exactly the distance from the lilies above my head to my toes buried in the sand. But my perspective was of the exuberance, not the limits, of life. The water was only a few feet deep, but the lilies reached for the sky.