In these four questions, Christopher Rimmer sheds light on the stars of his series 'Amapondo' - discussing his experience stalking Nguni cattle and the deep bond forged between man and cow. The full series can be viewed here.
1) What was your experience like studying Nguni cattle?
The experience studying the bulls featured in the Amapondo series was amazing. Not only was the area on the east coast of South Africa one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, almost like a garden of Eden, but the opportunity to immerse myself in all the traditions of the Pondo people and how they view their existence through their husbandry of these Nguni cattle, was really fascinating. The Amapondo shoot took a long time to complete relatively speaking so I became part of the community of Port St Johns where I was based and I made many new friends.
2) Given the opportunity, do you think Australian cattle would journey to the beach?
I formed the impression that the visits to the beach was a learned behaviour which had been passed down through the generations, so it is certainly not out of the realms of possibility that this type of behaviour could be picked up by Australian cattle, but having said that, we don't tend to have the same coastal pasture as is found in South Africa, so cattle in this country are often grazed further inland.
3) Cows aren’t given much cultural significance in Australia - do you think this would change if we caught them partaking in an uncanny habit (like going to the beach)?
Assuming Australian cattle did begin to visit the beach, I doubt it could change their cultural significance in any profound way. You have to remember that the lives of the Pondo people of South Africa and indeed many Sub- Saharan tribes are inextricably linked to their cattle both in a material sense but also spiritually, and this dates back centuries. Perhaps if aboriginal people had been pastoralists instead of hunter, gatherers, cattle would be viewed with a deeper sense of reverence in this country.
4) Did you ever relate to the cows, or were they hostile?
I did bond with the bulls I photographed and I suspect they became quite used to my presence. I became aware of their habits and what made them feel calm or nervous and I developed a sense of how they would react under certain circumstances.. Most revealing of all though, was the sense I got of the pleasure they get out of being alive and how socially organised they are. I found myself considering them in a completely different light as the shoot progressed. I have more respect for them now and I realize they are far from dumb and docile animals they are considered to be.
There was the odd expression of hostility from some of the larger bulls but that was right at the beginning of the shoot. Once they were used to me, they would greet me with what I like to imagine was a sigh of resignation.