With strong memories of my formative years growing up on the edge of the Namib Desert in what was then known as South West Africa, I have returned to explore my obsession with this place and my lifelong curiosity for the notion of shelter. I have covered thousands of dusty kilometres across remote plains, through dry river beds, over sand dunes and salt pans, through conservancies and communal lands to photograph families in desperate, forgotten outposts. I try to capture the ‘transhumance’ – the search for work, forage and water – and the remnants of former habitats alongside once productive land.
In coastal towns I move with women and children across stretches of desert from one garbage dump to another – often with the loot they carry in their quest to create shelter and eke out a living. I focus on human enterprise and failure, on the bare circumstances of ordinary women and men forced to negotiate life, and of an environment in crisis.
Namibia – a nation of diverse peoples and cultures in a vast land of seeming nothingness and unparalleled light – is rapidly shifting towards foreign popular culture. The momentum of urban development has triggered local populations to migrate from rural dwellings to the fringes of urban areas where they have settled on deregulated land – often falling prey to crime, alcoholism and abuse.
This transition of the social landscape is exacerbated by the scarcity of water and the implications of mining in a constantly drought-stricken land. In the desperateness of what is revealed on this landscape, I photograph what I care about – human intrusion, passage, negligence, waste, destruction and intervention.
Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain is about this space, these people, my place among them, and my existence at this time of my life.
Margaret Courtney-Clarke, 2017