Nick Brandt’s portraits of East African wildlife are shot in crisp, metallic black and white, but they capture a dynamic informality in their subjects. It’s as if the creatures Brandt encounters are unaware of his presence and have not had time to arrange themselves at their best. An elephant, ragged ears flapping, shuffles toward the camera, weighed down by broken tusks. A rhinoceros in profile displays a hide covered with nicks and gashes. A buffalo peers into the camera, one of its eyes swollen nearly shut. An ostrich egg, mysteriously abandoned on a mud flat, seems destined to petrify in the light of a distant sunset. Brandt’s photographs, which at first glance can seem static, are in fact suffused with movement and with a sense of the ephemeral quality of life.
Brandt, who has published three previous volumes devoted to his wildlife photography, has referred to his work as “unabashedly idyllic and romantic,” but he’s selling himself short. His concerns are in fact bigger. It took “billions of years to reach a place of such wondrous diversity,” he writes in his new book, “Inherit the Dust,” “and then in just a few shockingly short years—an infinitesimal pin prick of time—to annihilate all that.” Brandt observes that the crisis of African wildlife is more complex and monumental than just poaching; the underlying preoccupation of the new book is Brandt’s concern with the consequences of “man’s astonishingly rapid … destruction of the natural world.”