words by Matthew Brookes, starring L’Etoile dancer Hugo Marchand and Axel Ibot from Paris Opera Ballet.
I keep thinking about the famous Nina Simone quote: It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times that we live in. When we shot this dance story in South Africa it was in January 2020 and during the forest fires in Australia. My mind was constantly on what we are doing to the planet and how we are responsible for the climate crisis. The location where we shot has a deep significance in my own life because it’s where I did my first magazine fashion shoot at the beginning of my career in South Africa just before I left for Paris. It has been 20 years since that first shoot so to come back to this same place with two dancers from the Paris Opera felt like I was completing a cycle.
I always called this place “The Elephant Graveyard” – it has a very quiet and peaceful energy and time seems to stand still – I still don’t know why it’s full of dry dead trees that seem to grow out of sandy beaches and a calm lake of fresh mountain water but for me this place is quietly magical. My friends Hugo Marchand and Axel Ibot from the Paris Opera Ballet came out to South Africa for the first time and I wanted to take them to a place that felt like real Africa. There’s nothing like the open spaces of Africa and its huge skies filled with stars at night.
I always called this place “The Elephant Graveyard” – it has a very quiet and peaceful energy and time seems to stand still – I still don’t know why it’s full of dry dead trees that seem to grow out of sandy beaches and a calm lake of fresh mountain water but for me this place is quietly magical.
These pictures are a mix of some of my great loves… Nature, photography, dance (a new passion which I discovered in Paris) and my childhood… Africa. I have to say that these pictures are a reflection of my heart and what I was feeling at the time. The wonderful thing about photography is it captures a point in time. It not only reflects what is going on on the outside but also reflects what is happening on the inside. Each time I look at one of my photos – memories and feelings come flooding back of how I was feeling at that time – in this way a photo is not just what you are capturing at that moment – it’s also your personal diary. I have to say a huge thank you to my friends Hugo and Axel for dancing so beautifully and expressing what they felt at that time. I feel so incredibly privileged to have worked with these two insanely talented artists in the country that I grew up in. We have some beautiful memories of Africa.