Kolmanskop, a lonely ghost town draped in traditional German architecture, placed delicately and yet ever so deliberately in the middle of the desolate plains of Southern Namibia — the land of the brave — is truly a sight to behold. Beautifully rotting and decaying in isolation, it’s slowly being swallowed by the sands of the Namibia Desert. Ironically, this is the very desert once robbed of its beloved diamonds by those who flocked here to bask and bathe in jewels and riches.
I first heard about and saw images of Kolmanskop five or six years ago online, in an article about surreal places of the world. As a photographer obsessed with nature and unusual places, my attention was caught, and I immediately added it to my bucket list. I was traveling in Lesotho and South Africa last year and realized Namibia was basically next door, so I decided to make the trek over pretty much just to visit and photograph the town. Before heading there, I didn’t know if it would turn into a series or not. As soon as I stepped foot in there, though, I was so overcome with emotion that I knew I had to do something more. The place is quite popular with photographers, so I was worried about getting there and the rooms being full of footprints in the sand; I considered bringing a broom with me, but luckily there had been severe wind storms for a few days before I arrived, so the footprints had all vanished. I was also worried about being surrounded by tourists, as access to Kolmanskop is only given during a few hours in the middle of the day by permit. You can get a photography permit to access it during off hours, but the place was closed when I visited, so I had to sneak in to capture the images in the beautiful golden light at dawn and dusk all on my own. It was an absolutely magical experience.
In all its antique grace and mystique, this vacant mining town offers its visitors a surreal window into what once was. If you look deeply enough, you can see ghosts of the early 1900s — dancing in the ballroom, socializing at the casino, taking the tram to see performers at the theatre, and weeping for lost loves at the hospital.
However, even in all its beauty and wonder, a faint sadness lingers over this place. It serves as a chilling reminder of the tendency humans have to take from the earth, only to move on when its precious resources have been exhausted, leaving a trail of abandonment in our wake. Following World War I, it became apparent that the diamond mines had been bled dry of their treasured stones. By 1954, the miners packed up their tools and moved on to new prospects, never to return to Kolmanskop again. It was almost like a circus rolling out of town, but leaving the big top, caravans and animal cages behind once the audience had gone home.
But there is also a certain hopefulness to this nowhere place. Geological forces are causing the desert to engulf the houses and buildings, eventually burying them all in graves of sand. The diamond town will be lost, but soon the sands will take back what this town once stole. Kolmanskop is a testament to the fierceness of nature, enabling it to reduce a once thriving establishment to a mere row of glorified sandcastles — doomed with the beauty of impermanence, and destined to be washed away by the seas of time.
“Sandcastles” confronts the way we treat our surroundings and the environmental effects of our actions. It aims to offer a deeper insight into what one can learn from the history of Kolmanskop – That everything is ephemeral and nothing lasts forever, thus, an even balance between humanity and our environment is vital. This exhibition also serves as a reminder of the sheer power of Mother Nature, and her ability to heal the wounds which she has suffered at the hand of human infrastructure when she is given the time and privacy to recover. It is both a nostalgic and reflective look at history, but also an eerie, glimpse into a post-apocalyptic future, where the Earth that we consistently damage continues to exist without us, but where we will cease to exist if we do not begin to respect the Earth.