Nick Brandt’s new photographic work, Inherit the Dust, is his visual cry of anguish about the looming apocalypse for animals and habitats in Africa. If the killing of animals continues at its current pace, the elephants, rhinos, lions and cheetahs will all but disappear in 10 years. “I am embarrassed to use this phrase because it’s so corny and clichéd, but I want to make the world a better place,” he says.
The English born Brandt is a self-acknowledged environmental activist who has been shooting exclusively in Africa making eloquent and emotional animal portraits for more than 15 years. (On This Earth, and a Shadow Falls Across the Ravaged Land.) As Brandt watched both the animals and their habitats disappear, he realized he “couldn’t in good conscience keep making money from the animal portraits without taking action.” In 2010 he co-founded Big Life Foundation with Richard Bonham, one of East Africa’s most respected conservationists. Big Life partners with local communities and currently employs more than 300 rangers to protect animals living on more than two million acres of land.
That epiphany was also the genesis of the idea to erect life-sized panels of the animal portraits, place them in dystopian urban wastelands or industrial sites in Kenya where the animals once roamed, and create black and white epic panoramas of the scenes. The resulting images are simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, because they illustrate the irreconcilable clash of past and present. The animals represent a time when the African landscape, filled with a plethora of species, was primal and glorious and seeing it would fill even the most jaded of us with a profound sense of wonder. The present is a world eclipsed by poverty and desperation, exploding with population growth gobbling up every inch of land for people to live on, farm or mine.