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Internationally acclaimed photojournalist visits the Karoo

THE COVID-19 crisis in South Africa has received a lot of attention in the media, but most reporting has been based on what goes on in the big metros.

Internationally acclaimed photojournalist, Kim Ludbrook, however, decided to come and document the devastating effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on communities in the Karoo.

Ludbrook moved around towns like Cradock, Graaff-Reinet, Willowmore and Nieu-Bethesda, and accompanied the team from the humanitarian organisation, Gift of the Givers, who have been working tirelessly to relieve hunger in the Mid-Karoo since the beginning of lockdown.

Photo-documenting a pandemic is important from a historical value point of view, but what made you decide to document COVID-19 in the Karoo?

KL: The main reason was to get out of Jo’burg and tell the story or ‘rural’ South Africa, because 95% of the journalism was and still is coming out of the big centres. Also, I had been watching the COVID virus spreading and had seen some twitter reports on the effect the lockdown was having on the Karoo, so I decided to come and look for myself with the amazing help of the Gift of the Givers humanitarian organisation.

You have, among many other events, covered the war in Iraq, civil wars, a tsunami, rugby and soccer World Cups, the Tour de France (four times), Obama’s inauguration and Madiba’s funeral. Were there still things that made a deep impression on you during your trip through the Karoo? Was there a gut-punch moment for you?

KL: I’ve been covering the pandemic and lockdown from the beginning, but only came to the Karoo at the end of June. Covering my first actual COVID-19 funeral here, by pure chance, has left a lasting impression on me, for sure. Also, it affected me deeply to see for myself the massive economic effect of the lockdown, which is so much more obvious and ‘in your face’ in more rural areas, especially in the Karoo.

How were your photographs received by the international audience (and editors) of the European Press Agency?

KL: They were received very well and served their purpose – to bring the story of the Karoo to an international viewership.

If you could pick only two, what were your two favourite photographs of this trip, and why?

KL: I photographed the family of Captain Andrew Leslie at his graveside in Middelburg a month after he had passed away due to COVID-19. It was in the very early morning hours of a Sunday, and it was his daughter’s birthday. It was the first family I photographed who had lost a loved one due to the virus. The other picture I really loved was of the orphans at Christina’s House of Hope in Willowmore, as they huddled together under newly donated blankets from Gift of the Givers. It was just such a visually powerful image and a captured moment in time showing that the effect of the virus runs a lot deeper than one realises.

For a seasoned world traveller and photographer, what remains on your bucket list professionally?

KL: I would love to be able to keep travelling for another 20 years and top of the list is to travel to and document India.

Do you think there are other pressing issues in the Eastern Cape that international media needs to focus on, and will you be visiting again soon?

KL: I will definitely come back in 2020 to look at the longlasting effects of the coronavirus, but then at some stage also return to cover the positive side of the amazing Karoo people and landscape. As I grow older, I fall more and more in love with the expanses of the Karoo and maybe one day I will start a yoga retreat there.

(Ludbrook works with the European Pressphoto Agency as a photo and video senior correspondent.)

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