Nicolette Louw – ORYX’s Newest Member
It was an ordinary, working day at Nikon’s South Africa office when in walks a familiar face. With a big, friendly smile and dusty camera bag, Greg Du Toit greets me with his regular “Howzit Nicky!” and proceeds to tell me how exciting his most recent trip was. In all honesty, he didn’t have to wait for me to ask because that was always my first question after we exchanged pleasantries but that particular day’s conversation gave Greg a new insight that he wasn’t aware of.
“Man, I miss the bush!”, I exclaimed. “I wish growing up my parents could have taken me more but they always wanted to go on beach holidays.”
“When was the first time you went to the bush?”, Greg asked.
“When I was 9 years old”, I replied embarrassingly.
Poor Greg was shocked to know that my first bushveld experience only came at that tender age but he was even more appalled to know that since then, I had only managed to rack up three more bush trips (and no, I don’t count day trips to Pilanesberg National Park as a bush trip!)
I can’t really blame my folks for the shortcoming of forays as most of my childhood was spent overseas. I was born in Santiago, Chile when my father was stationed at the embassy and upon our return to South Africa, I was still a baby with another one on the way. The idea of trekking into a nature reserve with two tots was not my parents’ idea of fun and before we knew it, we were on our way to Buenos Aries, Argentina for our next 4-year tenure at the embassy.
During that time, I was exposed to an international platform like no other. My school friends came from an array of nationalities, my vacation travels were to exotic (sometimes generic!) destinations and I was trilingual child who could chop and change between Afrikaans, English and Spanish without hesitation. Upon my return to South Africa, I had a very thick American accent and was about to embark on a R&R expedition that most South African children are accustomed to: a trip to the bushveld.
I was privileged that my first outing to the bush was a 5-star luxury experience at Mala Mala Game Reserve. The drive en-route to the Kruger National Park remains vivid in my memory because I had never seen a more beautiful place: the rolling hills of the Blyde River Canyon, the majestic view from God’s Window, the quaint town of Pilgrims Rest…it was hard to believe that this country was actually my home! The acres of unspoiled nature on the other hand, took my awe to a completely different level. I had never seen wild animals up close before and I would incessantly ask my parents when was it time to go out on the vehicle again. I would plonk myself as close as possible to the swimming pool to see if the elephants would stop by for drink and even drew a picture of an elephant to thank our ranger for driving us around. The picturesque landscapes and the sweet melodies of African songs proceeded to etch Africa deep inside my heart…but maybe it’s because the love for Africa had always been there all along from the start.
The next few years consisted of a normal life. My dad left the foreign service and I was on a fast track to adult hood with decisions to make about my future. Toying with the idea of perhaps following in my father’s footsteps, I graduated from the University of Pretoria with a degree in International Relations and followed up with a stint as an Au Pair in the United States. My itching, travelling heart was fulfilled somewhat as I managed to visit so many beautiful places across the country but unfortunately stamping my passport doesn’t pay the bills…
Returning home meant looking for a job in a tough economy and somehow I ended up at Nikon’s headquarters in South Africa. I’ve always had an interest in photography and I was happy to work for such an esteemed company that further stirred my intrigue. In fact, my first photographic love was wildlife. I always asked clients to show me their images and would often be consumed with jealousy that they had the opportunity to travel to such fascinating locations and possess such skill, talent and equipment. I made a point to learn as much as possible about photography because I too wanted to capture art like that one day.
In my humblest opinion, it’s very important to work in a space that comprises of two aspects, mainly something that you’re skilled at and somewhere that you can offer valuable insight, which often includes connecting with people on personal yet professional level. After 4 years at Nikon, my photographic and technical expertise is a self-taught venture that has been undoubtedly aided by coming in contact with world class photographers and working with expert technicians (not to mention also repeated trial and error when out in the field!). Photographic knowledge is simply best learned when working with cameras and photography lovers on a daily basis. Although my travel bucket list on Pinterest is much too long at this stage for my bank account, my international ventures have shed so much light on cultures, languages and people all over the world. As a former frequent flyer, I understand the importance of a travelling clients’ needs, and coupled with a photographic understanding, what better place for me to be than with people that share my love for travel and photography?
Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe travelling does pay the bills after all…!