A simple journey for a simple man

Posted by Doug Morton on Sunday, 10 February 2013

Julie Andrews famously and very often sang “Let’s start at the very beginning….”   Why not?

During my school years one of the books I read was a Sherlock Holmes story. All I remember about the whole book was one comment made by Holmes to Dr Watson. No, not the “elementary, my dear Watson” one – that’s too elementary. Holmes was trying to impress upon the good doctor the importance of observation and looking at detail. I took the idea to heart and started doing things like memorising the number of steps in the main staircase at school, the number of lines on a road between this bend and the next, and so on.

No, those weren't the stairs at Clapham High School  -  those were far dirtier.


They were all very private thoughts till one day a friend at school gloatingly asked me how many steps there were in the main staircase and was heavily crestfallen when I was able to tell him. I still count steps as I very seldom use lifts. Some people are truly odd.

By around the age of twelve I’d become deeply interested in birds and was spending every spare moment in the bush. This got me into very hot water at school as I refused point blank to play cricket as that would curtail my preferred pursuit. The master finally gave up after a few canings did nothing to change my mind, and I was free again. Watching birds and having some in aviaries took my observation skills to a new level as I had no-one to refer to, no book, no binoculars and certainly no camera. It was a slow process, but those years rank as some of the happiest and most fulfilling of my life. Apart from the time I couldn’t avoid spending in school, that is. The knowledge I gained in those days is still one of my prized possessions.

Then I was introduced to butterflies, this after trying my hand at snakes and having close shaves with a Rinkhals and a Boomslang. Butterflies were less venomous. I think the insect world is the most demanding when it comes to identifying species and forms, and the time taken in any branch of entomology to become reasonably au fait with the bugs involves a steep learning curve, a fair memory, and total involvement. Ask Steve Woodhall. He’ll tell you.

All these pastimes and interests taught me more and more clearly that one sees little without really looking with complete attention. In many cases it was necessary to look at the tiniest details, and learn from that. It became a way of life and I unconsciously applied it to all that I did.

I see you shifting restlessly like members of a congregation when the dominee has exceeded his allotted twenty minutes for the sermon. Is there a point to all this, you’re asking. Actually, yes there is. Because then along came photography.

Sunrise at Winterton, August 2012.

Early morning in the Little Karroo.

When I look at the things I’ve been set free to do using a camera, I’m certain that all I’ve done before now plays a part in what I see through the lens. The ability to capture an event, a scene, a flower, bird or insect brings a satisfaction that is like an opiate. Many are the times when driving along that I ‘see’ a picture and have to screech to a halt and haul out the magic box, and there are the times along a path in the veld when something leaps out and grabs me by the camera strap, demanding to be accorded a place in posterity.

For me this comes with a responsibility that takes me by surprise. For a few years I’ve been content and enthusiastic about photographing landscapes, flowers, birds and insects. I had this fond notion that I’d be able to make some money by doing that, and I’ve loved doing it, though I see now that I’m in no danger of becoming wealthy that way. I once asked Roger de la Harpe how I could justify the cost of equipment, the travelling and time when there was to be no income, and he replied “It’s the fun.” I’ve come to accept that more and more, but now there’s something else.

It’s a need somehow to make a difference. Nothing necessarily dramatic, but to use what facilities and abilities I have to create an awareness of the lifestyles, the deprivation, the laughter, the happiness and sadness of the ordinary people we all drive past each day, seeing no-one and feeling nothing but our own anxieties and needs. You could call it massaging a social conscience, but that’s not it. It’s just a wanting to contribute.

It’s not as though I believe I have to pay for the learning and fun I had all those years ago. It’s just that I see a rapidly polarising society on my doorstep, and that’s the worst thing that can be happening to this country that we share. I know that I can do nothing to affect the politics and policies that rule our lives. I know too that any effort I make will be very small, but if I can touch one life, apart from my own, by creating awareness, that’s fine.

And so I’ve decided to use this blog page as my medium or soap box.  It goes hand in glove with whatever thoughts and imaginings go charging through this foggy mind of mine, and gives me the facility to combine the two things I most love doing – photography and writing.  It almost feels selfish to get such satisfaction, and I suppose that’s why I need to share this as a kind of community outreach.

I’ve found it extremely difficult to write this blog.  I’m just too uncomfortable talking about myself, but that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t want people to see me for what I am, as much as I value my privacy.


It would be good to know what you think.  This isn’t the end of the line yet….


Good Story Doug I really enjoyed this blog. I wish I could recall my young days like this. Most of mine are just vague thoughts. Also admire your courage to write and publish it.

By: Dave Nisbet on February 10, 2013

Community Outreach I can only applaud and support where you are going on your simple journey. You have with your photographic and writing skills a wonderful opportunity to make a positive difference by putting out there the realities of life for South Africa's sidelined citizens. Your early grasping and internalising of the importance of close attention to detail was indeed a gift. It is something many people only come to much later in life, some never. I wish you well as you continue to use your gifts to reach out and give.

By: Deb Williams on February 10, 2013

Keep Going This is the beginning.................... keep going.

By: Don Mchardy on February 14, 2013

SNAP!...well in some ways anyway. As a very young boy, I loved hunting for insects in our garden in East London, SA. I kept and fed the caterpillars and hatched them into moths or butterflies whenever I could. (Got a death's head hawk moth once, and showed it to Marjorie Courteney-Latimer, curator, East London Museum, involved with the discovery of the Coelacanth. WOW! Unforgettable events in my life! Wonderful days never forgotten.) Then the fish bug bit. Went on to farm with ornamental fish in SA and OZ. Just returned from an astounding trip to India at the invitation of the government to see their fish farms there, largely prompted by a long-standing desire to help the farmers in some way. Wonderful, friendly, likeable people. (I mention this for the "Snap again" aspect.) I have just soaked in some of your photographs. What memories and nostalgia! Thanks for posting them! In 2008, I travelled from Cape Town to Maritzburg station in the Shosholoza train. Great experience, but boy, has the station changed since then. Whew, how sad. Well, many thanks again for posting the photos, and all the best with the website. Look forward greatly to seeing additions. By the way, my wife Jet says she has seen your butterfly collection. Lucky her! I wonder if you still have it.

By: Brian Andrews on March 2, 2013

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