A man who does not know where the rain comes from usually gets drenched before he can find shelter. Mmegi staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE recently attended Thalefang Charles’ MaruAPula Photographic Exhibition to see the works of a man who can foresee the weather through the lens of a camera
A travel writer, photographer and arts lover, Charles’ Exhibition is now open at Thapong Visual Arts Centre gallery until October 4, 2017. From the Angolan highlands of Tempue to the confluence of Thamalakane and Boro, the photographic artworks depict the man’s journey on the road and through the lens in areas where it was possible to meet the eye of the storm and be caught right in the middle of it.
Being able to predict the weather by observing cloud formations and to top it all off, capture it on camera, is a rare skill, which Charles takes great advantage of. He called the exhibition 'Maru-A-Pula' because from young age he had to know which side the clouds were coming from.
Most of us can easily look at a cloud and see only what is imagined. Very few of us can look at clouds and see the approaching rainstorm. One of the most striking photographs in the gallery entitled Ko Maun shows a heap of clouds gathering from a distance. The photo seems to be taken on a road because the image shows low-lying congested and grey clouds and a road beneath. As long as the image ignites inspiration on the viewer, the dark cloud seems to bring precipitation. This is a place that Charles says holds great memories and as an author of Botswana’s Top 50 Ultimate Experiences, he says he wants to write about the place one day.
Travellers mostly take the road and the latter is more like their best friend because it connects their world to places they have never seen and Charles is such a man who likes to pull aside on the road and take photographs. One of his photographs shows a rainstorm approaching on the other end of the Old North road. Being an avid reader, Charles says he had always imagined David Livingstone when travelling on this road. “Dr David Livingstone, one of my favourite adventurers, the man who brought Batswana Christianity, and made the great Kgosi Sechele quit rainmaking, and divorce his other beloved wives for Christ, was no doubt a British imperialist who dismissed some of Batswana’s traditions as barbaric, but the Kgalagadi Desert humbled him to a point where he accepted its mysteries of charming the clouds. Livingstone said that after he convinced Kgosi Sechele to quit rain-making and follow Christ, Bakwena got the harshest drought ever,” Charles said at the opening of the exhibition last week.
When the rain clouds gather the entire sky tends to come in rows and patches and one of Charles’ photographs captured ‘Ko Matswereng’ at Mmadikola
Charles also shows that he is a man who can take high clouds by capturing them as long and streaky. He captured clouds that you can only encounter on the top of high mountains at the cruising altitude of a chopper when he took a picture of rain at Toteng in the hills of Ngami. He even said one of the many reasons he named his exhibition Maru-A-Pula was because he grew up in a village, playing pula nkgodisa under moroto wa Letsatsi. “Because if the dark clouds were rising from Mogatsapoo, (that is from the southwest of Serowe), I had to run home because that would be pula ya matakadibe. And that meant trouble,” he said.
Charles’ photography, however, is not all about extreme conditions, but some pictures indicate fair weather in the immediate future. He also shows clouds that hang-around just above tall buildings low clouds that block sunlight to bring precipitation and wind.
Charles also highlights that we are in the month of September (Lwetse) therefore it is the month of sick clouds. “It’s our Independence month. And ka Setswana it is the end of the year because to us, summer (selemo) is the beginning of the year. Maru-A-Pula because, during this time of the year, when I arrive at the village, as part of the greeting, I should respond to ‘E kae pula ka koo?’” he said.
Charles who is also a storyteller said as a child, pula brought some joy and some little inconveniences. He said pula ya medupe, for instance, brought the delicious madombi ka koko and they used to sit around the fire ko sesoweng waiting for what was the best meal of their time. “So when we craved for madombi, we just wished it could rain. We loved the rain, even though it robbed us of our playground and kept us under maribela a ntlo, where nkuku would warn us not to drink droplets from the thatched roof because re tla bua seleme,” he said. He highlighted the need to tell more pula stories.
Overall he said as a man who has had the privilege of extensively travelling through Botswana he got addicted to those dramatic clouds and decided to share them with Batswana. “While the landscape was usually flat and featureless, the clouds, hanging on our huge skies, added that drama to the pictures.”