Read an exclusive interview with Nick Brandt
Nick Brandt is a photographer who photographs exclusively in Africa, one of his goals being to record a visually poetic last testament to the wild animals and places there before they are gone at the hands of man. Born and raised in London, Brandt studied painting and then film at St. Martins School of Arts. He moved to America in 1992 and directed many award-winning music videos for renowned musicians such as Michael Jackson, Moby, and Jewel. It was while directing Earth Song, a music video for Jackson in Tanzania in 199, that Brandt fell in love with the animals and land of East Africa. Over the next few years, frustrated that he could not capture on film his feelings about and love for animals, he realized there was a way to achieve this through photography, in a way that he felt no one had really done before.
In 2000, Brandt embarked upon his ambitious photographic project: a trilogy of books to memorialize the vanishing natural grandeur of East Africa. His photography bears little relation to the color documentary-style wildlife photography that is the norm. He photographs on medium-format black and white film without telephoto or zoom lenses. His work is a combination of epic panoramas of animals within dramatic landscapes and graphic portraits more akin to studio portraiture of human subjects from the early 20th century, as if these animals were already long dead, from a bygone era. Brandt does not use telephoto lenses because he believes that being close to the animals make a huge difference in his ability to reveal their personality. He writes: “You wouldn’t take a portrait of a human being from a hundred feet away and expect to capture their spirit; you’d move in close.”
In his afterword in “On This Earth,” Brandt explains the reasons for the methods he uses: “I’m not interested in creating work that is simply documentary or filled with action and drama, which has been the norm in the photography of animals in the wild. What I am interested in is showing the animals simply in the state of being. In the state of being before they are no longer are. Before, in the wild at least, they cease to exist. This world is under terrible threat, all of it caused by us. To me, every creature, human or nonhuman, has an equal right to live, and this feeling, this belief that every animal and I are equal, affects me everytime I frame an animal in my camera. The photos are my elegy to these beautiful creatures, to this wrenchingly beautiful world that is steadily, tragically vanishing before our eyes.” Nick Brandt started a non-profit organization called the Big Life Foundation, dedicated to the conservation of Africa’s wildlife and ecosystems and continues to shoot in Africa, bringing awareness and beauty to the land.