Khaki-clad soldiers spent Saturday, July 26 advancing up a dry, grassy hill called Talana, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Some 115 years ago, this hill had been the site of the first battle of the Second Boer War; this time, the soldiers were members of the Dundee Diehard historical re-enactment team, and their foes were neither Boers or British, but savages of the new world. Their mission: to provide images for a new project from award-winning Canadian publisher, Iceberg Publishing.
“We can now say we’ve conducted an inter-continental photo shoot,” says Iceberg Senior Partner and Editor-In-Chief, Jacqui Tam, “and we’re absolutely delighted with the outcome.”
This fall, a new entry will join Kenneth Tam’s His Majesty’s New World universe, which is currently progressing with the Champions series. Set in 1896, the project will fill in some of the universe’s backstory, but its plot presented certain logistical problems when it came to covers.
“With His Majesty’s New World and Champions, we’ve built a tradition of strong, historically-authentic, photographic covers,” explains author and Iceberg Partner Kenneth Tam. “We wanted the same for this new project, but the right sort of re-enactors simply don’t exist in Canada. Our military history doesn’t include many ‘khaki soldiers’, so groups like the Canadian Military Heritage Society usually start with the War of 1812, then jump to the First World War. We needed someone in between.”
Enter the Dundee Diehards. Based in Dundee, South Africa –– at the foot of Talana Hill –– the group was formed in 1991 when the Duke of Kent opened the Talana Museum, to help preserve their country’s military history. Throughout the ‘new Imperialism’, modern-day South Africa was the site of numerous British colonial wars, including the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, and the Boer Wars of 1880-81 and 1899-1902. The Diehards routinely re-enact engagements from these conflicts, while also appearing at historical events, participating in commemorative ceremonies, and taking part in media projects. Their expertise was perfect for Iceberg’s project.
“As soon as we found the Diehards, we knew we wanted to work with them,” Kenneth says. “The only problem was geography –– could we coordinate a photo shoot from the other side of the Atlantic, and the other side of the equator?”
Though a small Canadian company, Iceberg has a long history of punching above its weight; the decision was quickly taken to try. Contacting the Diehards, Kenneth outlined the project, its requirements, and Iceberg’s past experience working with the Canadian Military Heritage Society. The South African team quickly came on board –– and, most importantly, put their experience and expertise at Iceberg’s disposal.
“We obviously have no infrastructure on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal,” Jacqui says. “The Diehards handled the location scouting, the equipment, the uniforms, the transportation, and the timelines. What might have taken us months to put together, they managed in a matter of weeks. We went from first conversations to camera in just six weeks. Full credit to them for making it possible.”
The Diehards also recommended South African photographer Pierre Janse van Vuuren for the project.
“We were very anxious to find the right person to go behind the lens,” Kenneth states. “We had a good team on the ground for the His Majesty’s New World shoot in 2007, and Olivia Witzke sets an extremely high standard with her work on Champions, so there was a lot of pressure. Pierre couldn’t have been a better choice.”
While the Diehards were cementing plans for the location and equipment, the Iceberg team was in regular contact with Pierre, discussing details from photo composition, to lighting, to poses, to style.
“Anything that could possibly come up, we tried to discuss in advance,” Kenneth continues. “When we’re present at a shoot, we can improvise to take advantage of things we see on the day. We needed to give Pierre an idea of what we’d be looking for, so he could keep an eye out on our behalf.”
The preparation worked. Through multiple setups across the day, Pierre and the Diehards captured images that fit perfectly with the style established in His Majesty’s New World –– and with what the project demanded. Armed with these images, Iceberg can now target a fall launch, though details about the project remain limited.
“Readers of The Grasslands will probably recall the significance of the year 1896,” Kenneth deflects, “but that’s all we can say for now.”
Although the full details of the story remain under wraps, the photos are a point of pride for the Canadian company.
“We had to draw on all our experience to commission this shoot,” Jacqui Tam concludes. “If we hadn’t done the same sort of shoots numerous times before, in Canada, we couldn’t have been able to try to execute one half a world away.”
“We were also very lucky with the people on the ground. The web has made the world smaller, but finding people with the both the talent and dedication that we found in KwaZulu-Natal is rare. The Diehards and Pierre took onboard all the information we offered, then added their own expertise and passion,” Kenneth elaborates, then smiles. “The results speak for themselves –– Mike Strong would be impressed.”
More information about Iceberg’s newest project will be available on this website in the weeks ahead. Additional stories about this shoot, and other Iceberg projects, can be found here in the Author Notes of Kenneth Tam and Jacqui Tam.