Discover the magic of this lonely ghost town in the Namib Desert
When a sparkling stone fell into the hands of a railroad worker in the Namib Desert in southwestern Africa, his supervisor, August Staunch, immediately recognized it as a diamond and was granted a prospector’s license. for the field. Out of nowhere, a town materialized to house around 1,000 German miners and their families and for decades the people of Kolmanskop lived a life of luxury. However, when the diamond supply ran out in the 1950s, the miners packed up their belongings and left, leaving the town to be reclaimed by desert sand.
Melbourne-based photographer Emma McEvoy recently traveled to Kolmanskop to photograph the eerily beautiful interiors of the remaining houses. Sneaking around the city to avoid tourists, McEvoy was able to capture the golden light of dusk and dawn that permeates the vacant spaces with her. Sand castle series. Beneath the beauty, however, lies a reminder of the brutal human tendency to take land and move forward only when its resources have been entirely exhausted.
Back in Melbourne, McEvoy came up with the idea of displaying the photos in a dilapidated house mimicking the empty sand-filled dwellings of Kolmanskop to give his viewers the feeling of being transported to the indomitable African desert.
How did you discover Kolmanskop?
“I first came across images of Kolmanskop five or six years ago online in an article about surreal places around the world. As a photographer obsessed with nature and unusual places, this caught my attention. and was immediately added to the to-do list.I was traveling to Lesotho and South Africa last year and realized that Namibia was practically next door so I decided to make the short trip close just to visit this city and photograph it. Before arriving, I did not know if it would become a series or not, but as soon as I set foot there, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I knew that I had to do something more with it.
You get there by traveling in a very small plane and you literally land on a tiny runway in the middle of the desert. It’s an amazing place. The place is quite popular with photographers so I was scared to get there and the rooms were full of footprints in the sand. Luckily there had been severe windstorms for a few days before I arrived so the footprints were all gone. I was also worried about being surrounded by tourists, as access to Kolmanskop is limited to a few hours in the middle of the day by permit. You can get a photography permit to access it after hours, but the place was closed when I visited, so I had to sneak out to capture the pictures in the beautiful golden light at dawn and at dusk by myself. It was an absolutely magical experience. »
For someone who has never been to this place before, how would you describe it?
“The place is strange. This small abandoned town in the middle of the African desert. It feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere, even though it’s not too far from the town of Luderitz. Everything around is so dark and barren – the exteriors of the houses are drab and the facades quite unremarkable – but you walk in and the rooms are so colorful and vibrant, each room has different wallpaper and the German architecture is truly beautiful. There are a number of different buildings still accessible and each building has multiple rooms; some rooms are full of more sand than others. You can literally spend hours walking around the various buildings.”
Can you explain to us how you configured the installation?
“I knew finding a house in the city center was always going to be difficult, and it took me a while to find one. For months, I roamed the streets of Melbourne dropping notes into boxes at letters, putting ads on Gumtree, writing to real estate companies and I even paid for title information on several abandoned properties to try and find out who they belonged to. I quickly realized it was occupied by squatters. It was tough… Then one day I was walking home from work and spotted an old, dilapidated house with a huge sign out front. I realized it was for a development company Fitzroy (Middle) I decided to contact them just to ask if they knew of any rundown houses in the area, explain why I wanted it and show them my work. at all to have their news them, let alone hearing that they had the perfect house and were willing to let me use it! They have been absolutely incredibly generous and supportive of all of this!
When I first entered the house I almost had a heart attack, it was so perfect, so many uncanny resemblances to houses in Namibia. The walls were cracked, peeling and covered in cobwebs, the wallpaper was the perfect color, the old deflated doors, the bathroom the perfect mint green color and there was an orange kitchen! It was amazing. I thought I would have a lot of work to do inside the house to make it look older and more weathered, but I had nothing to touch. I just made the decision to paint the exterior of the house a sand cream color to make it look more like the exterior of the houses in Kolmanskop. It was also a strange act of serendipity to find out that the house was to be demolished very soon after my exhibit. Having an ephemeral exhibition in a house that is going to be demolished is very much linked to my concept around the impermanence of everything.
The biggest job was putting the sand inside. I used 9 tons of sand. Two trucks, hundreds of wheelbarrow loads and a group of super strong buddies and we got it all inside in half a day! I then let it dry for a few days, then I came in with shovels, brooms and a leaf blower to spread the sand all over the house and build everything on the walls. I then hung my framed photographic pieces in all 4 rooms and the hallway, so people could walk around the whole house. It was amazing.”
All photos © Emma McEvoy