Sebastian Schutyser
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Flowers of the Moon

In the heart of Africa lies an icecapped massif with a mythical resonance: the Mountains of the Moon. The ancient Greeks referred to them as the supposed sources of the river Nile. Ever since, explorers, scientists and adventurers have been fascinated by this last great mountain discovery of the world, on the border of present Uganda and the Congo. Even today there is still a Rwenzori unknown. Added to the scrambled topography and muddy conditions, the abundant rainfall causes a vegetation so rampant that it turns penetration into a real ordeal. Due to its inaccessibility, most parts of the mountains are seldom or never frequented.

The afroalpine climate of the Rwenzori Mountains is determined by two geographical factors: they are very near to the equator, and high above sea level with peaks over 5000m. This has some important consequences. The equatorial location dictates daily rains, whereas the seasonal variations are less important. As the altitude increases the air becomes thinner, provoking intense radiation. Even on clouded days the incoming rays of ultraviolet and infrared are fierce, while at night the outward radiation under a clear sky has a considerable cooling effect with temperatures dropping below zero. As if it were summer every day, and winter every night.

These particular conditons have provoked an extravagant vegetation. While some plants seek refuge in miniaturism, others have taken to gigantism. The unlimited availability of water and sunlight have enabled them to grow unusually large. Giant heathers and senecio’s reach up to 8 metres. Their roots and the ground are carpeted with a thick growth of mosses, dotted with small ferns. Where the tree stems and branches are strong enough to support the weight, the heathers are also swaddled by ondulating moss cushions. The fast growing giant lobelia shoots it’s phallic spikes 3 metres high.

But this place is much more than a botanist's playground. Only a senseless man could ignore the enigmatic beauty of the afroalpine vegetation and the mystical aura of these mountains. The use of black and white infrared photography transforms the dominantly green slopes into fairy tale forests and blackish bogs. The absence of any reference to sizes and dimensions creates a universe in which all ties with a realistic representation are abandoned. What emerges is an image of a paradise lost, a sublime landscape in resonance with the paintings of Douanier Rousseau.