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  Stories of ordinary people  
Author: Thandanani Mhlanga
Publication: Sunday Argus
Publication Date: 3 October 2010
South African photographer GĂĽnther Komnick took second prize in an international awards competition. His book of photographs covers the ancient landscapes of Africa, writes Thandanani Mhlanga.

A collection of memories captured on film throughout a lifetime’s travel has won a South African photographer second prize at the 2010 International Photography Awards.

Günther Komnick’s self-published book, Impressions, spans decades and tells the stories of ordinary people who inhabit the ancient landscapes of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, South Africa, Zanzibar and Namibia, among other African countries.

With this win, he beat off competition from nearly 15 000 entrants from 103 countries in the various categories in the annual competition.

The awards were started in 2003 in Los Angeles to recognise contemporary photographers’ accomplishments worldwide. It is a sister effort of the Lucie Foundation, in which the top three winners will be announced at the annual Lucie Awards gala ceremony in New York on October 27.

Komnick published his full-colour 468-page coffee table book last year. It offers a selection of his vast archive of 50 years of photography in Africa, and gives readers a visual journey to distant places and different times.

German-born Komnick qualified as a lithographer and graphic artist with the Lithographische Kunstanstalt Bromberger in Donaueshingen in the Black Forest, and excelled as a designer in Switzerland before settling in South Africa in 1956.

Besides creating award-winning advertising, Günther has twice received the prestigious CP Hoogenhout gold medal for his children’s book illustrations and is a life associate of the Royal Photographic Society.

Speaking about his award, Komnick said the challenge of producing pictures gave him more happiness than winning a prize. "It just means that people appreciate it, but winning awards is not my aim”.

The photographs in Impressions are grouped into seven sections: culture, waiting, nourishing, trading, craft, motion and journey.

"A picture happens in a split second. You get it or you don’t,” Komnick said, as he lamented a missed opportunity. While in the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, Komnick said he was chased by "an army of giant crabs”, and after using 75 rolls of film to capture this rare occurrence, he found there was nothing. "If I lost something in my life, that was my biggest loss, " he said.

Komnick looks at a picture of a Bushman wearing traditional clothes and jewellery, taken in a village in the Namibian desert in 1976. "Photography for me is history. They don’t even make that jewellery anymore. Each picture has a life story. There’s not a single picture without a story in it. If you cannot look at my picture and know immediately what is going on, then I have failed.”

Komnick is working on his next book of his archival photographs of the Bo-Kaap and District Six in the 1960s.

He exhibited Impressions at the international book fair in Gothenburg, Sweden last month.