Nick Brandt is a photographer and co-founder of Big Life Foundation. In 2013 Nick completed a trilogy of books, the result of a decade-long photographic project to memorialise the vanishing natural grandeur of East Africa and its escalating destruction. The titles of the three books form one consecutive sentence: “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls, Across The Ravaged Land.” “Inherit the Dust” followed in 2016. For this project Nick built life-sized panels depicting Africa’s wildlife and placed them in scenes where they used to roam. The resulting photographs serve as a potent reminder of the disappearance of animal life under the encroachment of human development.
Nick co-founded Big Life Foundation in 2010 in response to the increased number of elephants in East Africa that were being poached for their tusks. The Foundation works to prevent poaching and to support the conservation of Africa’s wildlife and ecosystems.
In this Q&A, the Charter for Animal Compassion asks Nick what drew him to East Africa, what changes he’s witnessed in the time he’s worked there, and whether photography can help to shift popular attitudes towards nonhuman animals.
All the images on this page are Nick Brandt’s, from “Inherit the Dust”.
Charter: Why did you start taking photos of animals?
NB: The animals came first. Not the photography, but the animals. Or to elaborate, my love of animals came first. Photography was merely the best medium to convey my love of, and fascination with them.
From the outset, I wanted to show these animals as individual spirits, sentient creatures equally as worthy of life as us. I wanted to create an elegy, a likely last testament to an extraordinary, beautiful natural world and its denizens that is rapidly, tragically disappearing before our eyes.
Charter: What drew you to East Africa?
NB: There is something profoundly iconic, mythological even, about the animals and natural landscapes there, something deeply, emotionally stirring.
You also see something in a few remaining parts of Africa that no longer exists in the developed world, or indeed pretty much anywhere else in the world : places where you can look out across the landscape, and see multiple species in a single view.
Charter: You have spent 17 years photographing in East Africa – what changes to the natural world have you seen through this time?
NB: Massive changes, much faster than even a pessimist like me imagined. When many of us think of East Africa, we think of vast, unspoiled wilderness. It’s inconceivable that there may no longer be enough space for both animal and man. But this romanticized view is out-moded. There is almost no park or reserve big enough for the animals to live out their lives safely. And outside of those often surprisingly small areas, the animals are being relentlessly squeezed out and hunted down. With the current accelerating explosion in human population here, the wild spaces are disappearing at incredible speed.
This was the genesis for the last body of work, Inherit The Dust.
Charter: What led you to co-found Big Life Foundation?
NB: I never planned to be a conservationist. But at the height of the poaching crisis in 2010, I saw so many animals were being wiped out, and in the area where I most worked, very few resources to prevent that. I felt that these animals had given me so much, I owed it to them to give something back.
Fortunately, because of some very generous wealthy collectors of my work, I was able to raise enough money to start Big Life. Seven years later, 2 million acres are protected and the incidence of poaching of all animals massively reduced. Of course, other fundamental problems exist now – the loss of wildlife habitat due to encroaching human development.
But I would like to think that this is an example of where emotionally speaking, it is better for your own well-being to engage in this way – as I often say, don’t be angry and passive. Better to be angry and active.
Charter: What role do photography – and visual art more generally – have to play in shifting popular attitudes and behaviours towards nonhuman animals?
NB: Every little bit from every possible area of personal expression and communication helps. Being an incremental cog in the wheel of awareness can only help.
FIND OUT MORE:
View the ‘Inherit The Dust’ portfolio: http://inheritthedust.nickbrandt.com/
Visit Nick’s website: http://www.nickbrandt.com/