About Dr. Andy Baxter
Visual art is the oldest known expression of human communication and represents a proxy for human consciousness. From the mysterious symbolism of the Blombos Cave engravings etched on to a rock in a coastal Cave in South Africa some 70,000 years ago to the exquisite depictions of lions and rhinos from Chauvet Cave in France, dated to more than 30,000 years ago, imagery has defined the passage of modern humans as our forebears sought to establish their ascendency across the natural world. As a palaeoecologist I am fascinated by this period of our ‘development’ – the inflection point at which cognition, creativity, language and logic begin to trump basic instincts. It has been postulated that creating visual art is one of the defining characteristics of the human species. It has also been said that a picture tells a thousand words and perhaps, for this reason, we seek in our interpretation of every image, our own unique and personal story.
Tell us a bit more about yourself? Is photography a hobby? Do you have a day job?
I’m an environmental scientist with a special interest in climate change, conservation and the history of environmental change across southern African since the last Ice Age (i.e. at a time when our modern ancestors were developing sophisticated cultural and cognitive behaviours).
Photography has been a life-long passion project. I try to be versatile. I love expansive natural landscapes but have also developed an interest in macro photography following my recent chance encounter with a beautiful undescribed "strawberry widow" spider on Table Mountain.
The floristic fireworks series is my latest project to showcase the incredible beauty of the Fynbos and to highlight the importance of conserving the rich biodiversity
upon which so much of the region's ecological integrity hinges.
I have various 'day jobs' - I’m a strategy consultant and advisor mostly in the conservation sector (African Habitat Conservancy, The Eastern Cape Parks, the Cape Leopard Trust).
Fynbos… why the interest in Fynbos, and what was the inspiration for Floristic Fireworks?
I grew up in the Fynbos, in the Boland, climbing the Cape mountains from a young age. For my academic studies I was fascinated in reconstructing the sequence of environmental change across the western Cape and used vegetation dynamics as a proxy for climatic shifts over geological time. I spent a lot of time in remote valleys and kloofs and as much time staring down a microscope at pollen grains from Fynbos species. Our Fynbos biome - the smallest but most fascinating of the 6 floristic kingdoms in the world - holds such incredible diversity - not only the plants which occur here but all of the associated insects, reptiles, mammals and birds.
There are so many ways to capture the beauty of the Fynbos and I was looking for a different way to highlight the incredible symmetry and structure of the flowers, particularly the Leucospermums (pin-cushions). I've been experimenting with low-light photography for a while and I couldn't help but think that the pin-cushions and proteas resembled fire-works in these dull conditions. I've tried to showcase the Fynbos in a different light and it really seems to have resonated.
I have been overwhelmed by the response from all around the world and it pleases me greatly that others can appreciate the beauty of our precious Fynbos. It's clear that many people are not fans of conventional fireworks (and rightly so) and that they far prefer the visuals of the natural floristic 'fireworks'. This speaks entirely to my hope that, in some small way, my photography will inform and educate others about important environmental and conservation issues.