Throughout his career, photographer Nick Brandt has combined esthetics and activism. He’s used proceeds from the sales of prints of his black-and-white images of endangered East African animals to help fund his foundation, Big Life, which protects a two million-acre ecosystem in East Africa. And when speaking about his work, he has emphasized its conservationist message.
His studies of lions, elephants, apes and other species ask viewers to look at and appreciate the majesty of these creatures that are threatened by poaching, development and other human intervention. In his new series, “Inherit The Dust,” Brandt takes a more direct, gloves-off approach to emphasizing human complicity in the destruction of habitat in East Africa. To create the large-scale panoramas, Brandt installed massive prints of his animal photographs in areas overcome with human waste, industrial pollution and other activities that have displaced species, then he photographed the prints in the landscapes with a 6×7 Mamiya film camera. Brandt made his final, large-scale prints by stitching negatives together.
By working with local people to install the prints, and by including them in the images, Brandt also connects endangered animals and local populations whose lands and livelihoods are affected by resource exploitation, pollution, poverty and other socioeconomic realities in areas of East Africa. Brandt’s work suggests that in the conflict over protecting endangered species, standing with animals also means standing with and empowering local populations in the places where these animals exist. Brandt’s work links species conservation with humane action, in opposition to those who perpetuate a system in which power and wealth are based on denying the many—any and all species—for the benefit of the few.
Inherit The Dust, published by Edwynn Houk Editions, is out this month, and Brandt’s prints will be exhibited in New York at Edwynn Houk Gallery beginning March 10, and at Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, beginning March 24.