As both artist and activist, we have long admired the work of photographer Nick Brandt, whose commentary on conservation is communicated through his powerful and profound photographs. None more so than, Inherit The Dust, a disconcerting body of work that seeks to place the concept of conservation in context by way of iconic panoramic images of animals in the very places where they used to roam. Nick’s inspired idea of erecting life-size portraits of animals at various locations across Kenya, positioned within the context of urban development, factories, wasteland, and quarries, offers a sobering observation on how much we have lost.
‘My plan had always been that the animals in the panels should effectively be ghosts in the landscape. With these animals driven from their habitat, I wanted the images to serve as a reminder of what was here before.’ Take ‘Alleyway with Chimpanzee’, a portrait of a chimp placed next to a stream of sewage where perhaps a river once ran, or ‘Underpass With Elephants’, where a massive image of elephants is erected under a freeway in a space shared with homeless people. Some of the animals in the panels appear to be looking out at these destroyed landscapes with sadness as if lamenting the loss of the world they once inhabited. By the end, we see that it is not just the animals who are the victims in this out of control world, but humans too.
‘This is the most powerful body of work I’ve ever witnessed in communicating the severity of the crisis. The more people that see it, the better,’ says Deborah Calmeyer, CEO, and founder of ROAR AFRICA. ‘If I had my wish, we’d have a massive exhibition of these life sized pieces in Central Park, New York, with exhibits in Shanghai and Beijing too. There is no other way to get the message out there and I can’t thank him enough for the work he is doing to help save our wildlife.’
Nick never planned to be a photographer or an activist. ‘Photography was simply a way for me to express my love of animals,’ explains Nick, who fell in love with Africa and its wildlife in 1995 when he was in East Africa to direct Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ video. It was on a return trip to photograph portraits of the wild animals in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park in 2007, that Nick photographed a 49-year-old African elephant called Igor. ‘I was instantly drawn to Igor, both visually and internally,’ says Nick, who photographs animals much like he does humans. ‘He was a huge male in the prime of his life and yet his gentle nature allowed me to gain his trust and photograph him quite close up.’ When Nick returned to the Amboseli two years later, he learned that Igor had been slaughtered by poachers. ‘It was utterly devastating, particularly as it was Igor’s level of trust with humans such as I, that might have allowed the poachers close enough to hack the tusks from of his face.’
When, not long after, the same fate befell another of Nick’s subjects, a 44-year-old matriarch Mariana, it proved life changing. ‘I realized that instead of being angry and passive about what was happening, I had to exert some power over my anger to make a change, however small.’ And so, in 2010 he co-founded The Big Life Foundation with conservationist Richard Bonham. The organization seeks to protect and sustain Amboseli, one of the most important and famous ecosystems in Africa, and home to the greatest elephant population in East Africa. Big Life’s philosophy is simple: conservation supports the people and people support conservation. Today it employs more than 250 Rangers in 40 anti-poaching outposts across a staggering 2 million acres of the Amboseli/Kilimanjaro ecosystem, one of the most important and famous in Africa. And it is making a critical difference. ‘Poaching in the area Big Life protects has dramatically dropped in the seven years we’ve been operating,’ says Nick. And while fighting wildlife crimes is integral to what The Big Life Foundation does, we applaud their success at working with local communities to protect Kenya’s wild life and wild lands for the future.
For more information on Big Life Foundation or if you would like to include a trip to the Amboseli National Park in your East African safari experience, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +1 855 666 7627