”When an elephant comes to the shade of a tree on the plain, we say he is telling stories to the tree; stories of all things he has seen from when Africa was young. It takes a long time, for Africa has many stories, the elephant is very old, and it has a long memory.”

The sun was high above us and it was mind-numbingly hot. We had walked since daybreak and had stopped for a rest. On a distant ridge some elephants were standing very still in the shade of a tall tree. They were too far away for a photo, so I tried to focus my dazed brain on jotting down Jonah the tracker’s lines of pure poetry. This eventually became the unifying theme for an exhibition and a limited-edition book with photos of people, landscapes and animals from sub-Saharan Africa. 

I lived in East Africa for the first time in the late 1960s, and spent a significant part of my early life hunting in the bush, swimming and spear-fishing on the coast of the Indian Ocean, and exploring the cities and villages where life in the new post-colonial era was slowly starting to take shape.

Africa left an indelible impression on me, and the sights, sounds and smells can come back to me quite suddenly, triggering a longing to be there. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to travel and work in many different parts of Africa since those first years. Like a severe addiction it is impossible to resist and I keep coming back, trying to understand the drug that hooked me.

Our distant ancestors, the original explorers of Africa, left no written records of their discoveries. However, thousands of years ago they started making extraordinary rock carvings and paintings. These can still be found, hidden away in places like Niassa in Mozambique, Twyfelfontein in Namibia and in the Tibesti mountains in Chad.

We cannot be sure of the meaning or significance of these pictures of animals and people. Maybe they formed part of rituals, drawn to bring luck before a hunt or to give thanks after the event. Maybe they illustrated stories passed on from one generation to the next, as a form of pictorial shorthand.

Perhaps they had no other purpose than to satisfy an urge to depict the strange and the beautiful. I like to think so, and it is in this spirit that my photos have been shot - with a sense of wonder and a desire to capture the moment.    

© Frank af Petersens

Giraffe & Tree, Uganda (Polaroid 4x5 negative)

Nyiragongo volcano, North Kivu, Congo DRC

Clouds & Zebras, Laikipia, Kenya

Big Tusker In The Rain, Tsavo, Kenya

Two Black Rhinos, Zimbabwe

Elephant Calf II, Samburu, Kenya

Giraffes & Mt Meru, Tanzania

Tree Branch With Elephants, Tarangire, Tanzania

Zebra Herd, Serengeti, Tanzania

White Tree, Tsavo West, Kenya

Elephants Under Dark Clouds, Tsavo, Kenya

Black Rhino Female & Calf, Zimbabwe

Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda

Running Elephants, Kenya

Elephant Mother & Daughter, Kenya

Elephant Bull Group I, Tsavo East, Kenya

Roaring Rock, Tsavo West, Kenya

Mt. Kadam, Karamoja, Uganda

Elephant Bull & Thorn Tree, Samburu, Kenya

Rhino With Dustcloud, Kenya

Elephant Bull Group II, Tsavo East, Kenya

Moon over Mbatamile, Niassa, Mozambique

Band On The Run, Tsavo, Kenya

Three Male Giraffes, Ol Pejeta, Kenya

Elephants Crossing Ewaso Nyiro, Kenya