Kolmanskop, abandoned diamond mining town, Namibia

Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 1600, FL 15mm, 1/30 sec, f/8

Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 1600, FL 15mm, 1/30 sec, f/8

Kolmanskop is an abandoned town in the Namib desert.  It was established in 1908 when diamonds were discovered in the area but was largely abandoned by the mid-1950s when the diamond rush was over.  At it’s peak in the roaring twenties, it boasted a hospital (with the first X-ray station in the Southern Hemisphere!), a school, 1200 residents, an ice factory, a swimming pool, and a theater.

Unlike the ghost towns of the American West, however, Kolmanskop is located in the brutal and aggressive sands of the desert.  And the movement of the sand is relentless –  Kolmanskop is slowly being buried beneath the shifting sand.  Another 30 – 40 years and I suspect there will be very little of the architecture visible.  Being able to photograph humanity’s conceit against the backdrop of geologic time was not only a wonderful photographic exercise but also a deeply moving personal experience.

I had the same emotional response to photographing Kolmanskop that I had in photographing Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland.  The realization that I was witnessing events that had been going on for time immemorial and would go on long after I had exited this world.  The acute awareness of how vast the universe is, the deep time of our own earth’s existence,  and how puny and cosmically insignificant humans are.

I think we humans are so distracted by our own presence that we fail to grasp our own miniscule place in the universe.  It is only when I step outside my own comfort zone, my own routines, and when I witness events like glaciers calving before me, and the almost perceptible movement of sand eradicating humanity’s traces that I am able to feel the immensity of it all.  And one of the awarenesses I have is that in a very short period of time, I will cease to exist.  That humanity itself will one day cease to exist is a foregone conclusion – 99.99% of all species that have existed on earth are now extinct. It is inevitable that our turn will come.  But even long before the demise of humanity, my own, very brief, time will end.

I was trying to describe these feelings to a friend who said, ‘why does it make you feel good to feel insignificant?’  And I realized that I was not conveying the depth and breadth of the experience.  Because for some reason, recognition of the briefness of my interlude of physical existence is an empowering realization for me.  My personal identity, as short-lived as it is, is unique.  There is not another entity that has my collection of memories and experiences and there never will be.  Recognition that my time on this earth is like the blink of a cosmic eye is a reminder to me to savor every moment of this existence that I can.  It is a reminder to me to not get caught up in negative emotions or worry over trivialities.  In fact, every time I have come face to face with the awesomeness and immensity of the universe and how small and brief my time is, I have walked away feeling liberated and inspired.

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.”   Carl Sagan, Cosmos

About Diana Davidson

Physician, traveler, photographer, tennis player, reader, teacher, student


  1. Ulla Spansdahl says

    Wonderful picture. Very illustrating to the text. I agree with you about our second or even shorter time than that, when considering eternity. Our life is but a blink. But even though I do think my physical time is very short, I do believe my soul will be forever living. Totally different dimensions beyond everything my bodily mind can capture, but still. But I totally agree that the realisation of our bodily life’s second, is very freeing. Anyway, I really enjoy both your picture and your text. Forces one to think. Thank you.

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