• April 19, 2016

Iconic Animals ‘Return’ to Lands They Once Roamed

Alexa Keefe

Earth Day is Friday, April 22, and Proof is celebrating all week. This is the second post in a five-day series about our planet.

A trip to Tanzania turned Nick Brandt on to photography 20 years ago, but his first love was animals.

Alleyway With Chimpanzee
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“Africa is one of the few places left in the world where you can see animals en masse stretching across your field of vision,” he says. “That vision [of multiple species] taps into something deep within many of our psyches. There is a sense of extraordinary wonderment going back to a more primeval time, when that was commonplace across the entire world.” Photography, he says, was simply the best way to express his feelings about animals and nature, and he has been using it since as a call to action to preserve what remains.

Factory With Rhino
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With his latest project, “Inherit the Dust,” Brandt has gone to extraordinary lengths to show us what’s at stake if the human impact on the environment continues unchecked. Placing 30-foot portraits of elephants, giraffes, rhinos—all animals he had photographed previously in East Africa—against the stark, dystopian landscape of the underpasses, trash dumps, and quarries of Kenya’s increasingly sprawling development creates a jarring juxtaposition that serves as part cautionary tale, part wake-up call to a potentially different future.

Factory With Chimpanzee
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“Africa has the ability to become a superpower when it comes to nature tourism,” Brandt says. (In 2010, Brandt co-founded an organization called Big Life, which helps fight poaching in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem of East Africa.)

Wasteland With Lion
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Underpass With Elephants
Underpass With Elephants
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As surreal as these images look, they are completely real, the result of Brandt meticulously combing through 12 years of contact sheets for just the right animal portraits (interestingly enough, what he viewed as flawed in context of his prior projects became the perfect compliment in context of this new one), scanning the negatives (Brandt works exclusively with film), making the prints, hiring a scout to identify locations in advance (which, as it turned out, still didn’t always have just the right feel, meaning more scouting on the fly), and constructing the 30-foot panels in situ against these backdrops.

Quarry With Giraffe
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Wasteland With Cheetahs
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Brandt, who was a director of music videos in a previous life, assumed at first that he would stage-manage the human subjects in these photographs but soon abandoned the idea. “I realized within a couple of days that was creating stiff, dull, unexciting results,” he says. “I wanted the impression that these panels were ghosts in the landscape and the people living there were totally oblivious to them. It instantly worked better by letting people get on with what they are getting on with.”

Road Junction With Qumquat Family
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In this way, moments of serendipity occurred, such as the small boy with the stick poking the photograph of an elephant under an urban overpass. Such unscripted moments reveal another layer to the humans inhabiting these spaces, which contributes to the narrative. “What happens in reality is always going to be better than what you can concoct in Photoshop,” Brandt says. “Not just because it looks more real but there’s stuff that happens that is completely cool and wonderful that you’ve never thought of.”

Road to Factory With Zebra
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This tension between control and happenstance extended to other areas of the project as well. He planned the shoots during Africa’s rainy season but still had plenty of sunny days to contend with. Sitting around on location with a crew, waiting for the just the right clouds to lend the melancholic tone he was looking for, was stressful. Then there were the complications of shooting on film, which not only added thousands of dollars to the budget and months to the project time but also meant not seeing the results of his work until heading back home.

In a behind-the-scenes look, members of the crew erect Wasteland With Elephant at a dump site. The final photograph can be seen here.
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Still, while he did some safety shots on digital, the format holds no allure for him. It felt “like being told to do my homework,” he says. “My boredom and disinterest in the process doesn’t work well if I’m trying to feel inspired by what I’m photographing.” And plus, as he wrote in an essay from his recently published book, “film just turns me on.”

“Inherit the Dust” is currently touring in exhibitions around the world and has been recently published as a book. You may see more from the project on Nick’s website. Nick will be presenting his work at the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Va. in June 2016.

There are 34 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. D
    May 18, 2016

    There really isn’t any hope for Kerb who exists in 18th and 19th centuries.

  2. Grace
    May 10, 2016

    @Kerb How dare you? How dare you come here, to view this work—which you were by no means forced to do—and spew nothing but your own propaganda? What gives you the right to pass judgement, here? And to blatantly slander those who spoke before you…
    As for your actual content, I’d like some clarification.
    Let’s start with your second statement, being “All that trash, all that industry, it was all there before, every bit of it. Man has just taken the raw materials given him and with his intellect has strove to improve his circumstance”. Trash, I’m assuming, you see as being discarded waste as seen in the photos. So, by this logic, a rock is trash? Shrubbery is trash? Clay, grasses, trees, all trash. Yes, man was given raw materials and through processes too lengthy to explain here, was able to produce chemical combinations not found in nature. The basic foundations are, of course, natural, as matter can be neither created nor destroyed. But man birthed plastics, rubbers, and all sorts of other synthetic products and byproducts, and what’s more, scattered them about the earth. A rock was there before—a plastic bag was not. We created the trash. The earth is not trash.
    Now, on to your claim that “The animal Kingdom, as beautiful as they are, are incapable of the same level of intellect and improvement as the human race”. How can you equate things that are so wildly complex and unique? The intellect of, say, an orca is indeed very different from that of a human. But difference does not necessarily mean that one is better than the other. I’d like to know what sort of scale you’re using to so easily compare such vast and widely unexplored areas. If we judge simply based on “improvement”, then we first need to define improvement. Is it the health of the planet? Or are you thinking more along the lines of invention and innovation? If it’s the latter then humans definitely take the cake. But what use does an orca have for a microwave, anyway? If you’re judging from planetary health, then orcas are vastly superior to humans. All we’ve done is poison the earth with the unnatural substances discussed before. Now, as for intellect, what are your parameters here? Is it language? Studies have shown that separate pods of orcas have developed incredibly different vocalization patterns—essentially, they have their own languages, just as humans do. Is it the capacity for emotion, for empathy? Dolphins care so deeply about members of their pod that if one is captured, the others refuse to leave it behind at risk of their own imprisonment. Orcas actually have a specialized part of their brains geared toward social connection that humans lack.
    You then move on to say “This world is meant to be subdued and improved not left to the devices of nature. Is there anything truly more beautiful than improvement??” Well firstly, the terms “subdued” and “improved” in this context seem to be directly contradictory, for isn’t improvement based off of the enhancement of features that yield the best result? And as for it “not [being] left to the devices of nature”… This planet is older than you could possibly imagine. Yes, you could look up today’s most accurate number (4.543 billion years), but such a number is so large that the human brain simply cannot visualize it. The human race is only about 200,000 years old, with civilization as we know it only cropping up about 6,000 years ago, and industrialization beginning really in the last 200 years or so. We are a mere blip in the timeline. So do you really think that the “devices of nature” haven’t done their job? Are you really meaning to say that the earth is that dependent upon us, a race in our infancy? And as for there being anything more beautiful than improvement, I’d say we’ve done a lot of things to this planet, but improving it isn’t one of them. Ocean acidification, deforestation, desertification, melting polar ice caps, altering the content of the atmosphere, and on and on and on. Is making earth uninhabitable really improvement?
    Lastly, your closing statement “I purpose we put our emotions aside and consider wisely our words and choices”. I assume you meant this as a “proposal”, but looking last the plethora of grammatical mistakes, I find no fault with the core sentiment. And I think that you should take your own advice.

  3. Chris Murphy
    May 2, 2016

    I was truly astonished when I first saw these. Nick Brandt has managed to encapsulate all my worries and fears, in a series on animals, out of what could have been, but now certainly is not, their natural habitats.
    A sobering reminder of our legacy, our continuing impact on the natural environment.

  4. Tim Stegmaier
    April 26, 2016

    This is some of the most significant and important photo work that I have seen for our challenging present day global circumstance. Kudos to you Nick Brandt for your incredible accomplishment and tremendous gift to all living beings! May we all learn how to care all the others that share this planet.

  5. Jessica Shipley
    April 26, 2016

    Very Powerful and Amazing!

  6. Anuar P
    April 25, 2016

    Highly opportune and beautifully done project!

  7. Sharlynn
    April 25, 2016

    Absolutely stunning and powerful series! Wow!

  8. Andrea Hope
    April 25, 2016

    Only after human beings are eradicated from this planet, and it will happen, will the “meek” truly inherit their earth.

  9. Ivan Padovani
    April 25, 2016

    @ Hofer : What a blatantly opportunistic attempt to turn this magnificent, thought-provoking work into a plug for a myopic anti-life approach. Your ‘suggestion’ epitomises the very antithesis to the scope of Brandt’s work and vision. Do you seriously imagine that human beings who have no problem with killing their own will be somehow more considerate of the welfare of any other living species ? The problem is not over-population but the gross mis-management of resources coupled with the Apocalyptic foursome : greed, indifference, ignorance and limitless selfishness

  10. Daniel Hofer
    April 25, 2016

    We can’t blame destruction as long human population grows. Waiting for an effective Programme of United Nations to stop human populations growth. Abortion pills should be free world wide.

  11. James Kennedy
    April 25, 2016

    Subdued, Kerb? Improved? That sounds like Biblical ignorance. How about cherishing our declining environment, rather than destroying it. This is the only world we will ever have, as long as the speed of light is an upper limit.

  12. James Kennedy
    April 25, 2016

    Humanity is one of the few species that fouls its own nest. Our population explosion means extinction for others. Welcome to the world of Soylent Green.

  13. Kathy
    April 24, 2016

    This is the smartest idea anyone has had yet to show exactly what used to be and what now is.
    takes on a whole new definition of ‘beauty and the beast’ thank you for the reality check

  14. Tracy Scanlon
    April 24, 2016

    They need to grab their heritage before it is lost forever!

  15. Hans Peter Goepel
    April 24, 2016

    Every one of as are guilty, nature will never forgive us for what we have done, but we can try to reverse this by planting at least one tree in our lifetimes-and bending to pick some trash- keep it GREEN & CLEAN

  16. Summer Foster
    April 24, 2016

    Beautiful work! So heartbreaking to see the destructive nature of man work against ourselves and all we hold dear.

  17. Mauricio
    April 24, 2016

    Kerb, I agree with you regarding the beauty of progress. However, these pictures show more less progress than a lack of it. That is perhaps why other readers bemoan the images.

  18. Susan
    April 24, 2016

    Magnificently ashamed

  19. Kerb
    April 24, 2016

    To all those who posted above your comments literally make me sick. All that trash, all that industry, it was all there before, every bit of it. Man has just taken the raw materials given him and with his intellect has strove to improve his circumstance.The animal Kingdom, as beautiful as they are, are incapable of the same level of intellect and improvement as the human race. This world is meant to be subdued and improved not left to the devices of nature. Is there anything truly more beautiful than improvement?? Every choice is inherently a trade off. I purpose we put our emotions aside and consider wisely our words and choices.

  20. Katie
    April 24, 2016

    We should be ashamed of ourselves

  21. MaryL
    April 24, 2016

    Extremely poignant pictures of what could be if humanity doesn’t grasp the destruction of animals and each other. Thank you for this article and artwork.

  22. Jimmy J
    April 24, 2016

    Beautiful, moving work. Thought provoking, and such sadness of what we’ve done to our fellow earthlings.

    “The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?”

    And oh yes we make them suffer. We take their lives en mass, murder them and eat them. And we call ourselves civilised?

  23. Fran
    April 24, 2016

    I can’t deal with it

  24. Rudy Cabrera
    April 24, 2016

    Estamos llenando de cemento, basura y contaminantes nuestro planeta. Destruimos el entorno que antes era compartido por otras especies. Nos creemos inteligentes y únicos dueños. Hasta cuándo?

  25. Bitsy
    April 24, 2016

    The human race is the most destructive animal on the planet. We think we are so smart. HA! We never learn. Gia (Mother earth) will destroy us and start over after she heals herself. We are like fleas on a dog back, only worse.

  26. Jon Pall Vilhelmsson
    April 24, 2016

    Nick Brandt, one of the most important photographer of our time, shows us in a a brilliant but devastating manner what modernization has done to the African nature. We are, unfortunately, going the same route in Iceland. Are we incapable of learning from other nations mistakes?

  27. Joyce Benedict
    April 24, 2016

    I have loved Earth and Animals since a child. These pictures brought close to heart the tragedy and beauty. The tragedy what we have done to planet and Life, the beauty of the photographs and animals. Isn’t it time we demand a check on proliferating the human race until we heal the planet? A monetary payment for limiting one’s family to 2? Not only have we done a great job polluting the planet, our bodies with tons of pollutants/preservatives, but space now is so littered. We are the enemy and the Natives speak of a cleansing to come. Mother Earth is mad and very sick. Wake up!

  28. Joseph Porterfield
    April 24, 2016

    What a powerful series of pictures. An already a tragic scene – natural habitat despoiled – is rendered infinitely more poignant with the inclusion of those animals who can no longer dwell in the same space. Shame on mankind.

  29. Jo. Unrau
    April 21, 2016

    We’ve planted trees & flowers everywhere we lived & leave as small a footprint as possible & didn’t reproduce & help overpopulate our world.

  30. Melanie S
    April 20, 2016

    Nick Brandt, this project is truly breathtaking for different reasons. Thank you for reiterating the damage we’re doing to our beautiful co-inhabitants. Thank you to Ruth Kavutha for your suggestion to keep it green and clean, to do what we can.

  31. Emilio Covarrubias
    April 20, 2016

    The concept is extraordinary… The images are amazing, superb… The reality is tragic and painful…

  32. ruth kavutha
    April 20, 2016

    nature will never forgive us for what we have done, but we can try to reverse this by planting at least one tree in our lifetimes-and bending to pick some trash- keep it GREEN & CLEAN

  33. Jay Wingate
    April 20, 2016

    This is tragic and extraordinarily powerful exhibit.

  34. Ayan
    April 19, 2016

    What has the human race done to our planet earth? This is terrifying.

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