“There’s a phrase I always use. It’s better to be angry and active than angry and passive.” – Nick Brandt.

Underlining the Critical Need for Environmental Conservation

For the past two decades, photographer Nick Brandt has created several bodies of work that underline the critical need for environmental conservation. Through his work and as part of his philosophy, Brandt argues that if humans continue to endanger the environment through a relentless pursuit of “economic progress,” the natural wildlife, that society claims as Earth’s endowment to humanity, will ultimately cease to exist.

From Filmmaking to Photography

Nick Brandt began his journey working in Africa by directing music videos and filmmaking. After being fascinated with the scenery of the continent, he turned to photography to capture the depth and vast richness of the African landscape. Consequently, Brandt has created powerful imagery in his three latest bodies of work that transmit the need for conservation.

Nick Brandt, Underpass with Elephants (Lean Back, Your Life is on Track)
Nick Brandt, Underpass with Elephants (Lean Back, Your Life is on Track), 2015, Archival Pigment Photograph

Inherit the Dust

In his series, Inherit the Dust, Brandt captures portraits of animals from East Africa. He prints life-sized portraits and mounts them onto large panels in Kenya. Finally, after careful research, he places the mural-like pictures in the exact areas that were indigenous to those animals. The results are vivid images that convey through captivating emotion, the displacement of these animals. These lands were once home to these extraordinary creatures, and as these lands have been urbanized through economic development, the delicate ecology of the environment, as well as the relationship of man and animal, has been thrown out of balance. In the present day, many of these terrains and natural habitats have been altered and turned into wastelands of rubble and debris.

Nick Brandt, Road to Factory with Zebra
Nick Brandt, Road to Factory with Zebra, 2014, Archival Pigment Photograph

Posing Vital Questions for Our Modern Time

In Brandt’s photographs, the allure of the majestic wildlife is contrasted against the stark, dreary environments of 21st-century detritus. These man-made constructs include quarries, bridge underpasses, and toxic wastelands, to name a few. The finalized images question the benefits of short-term economic progress and pose vital questions for our modern time. How can you control economic development and respect long-term goals of keeping the animal domain and natural resources healthy and intact? Is urbanization yielding the best overall results for Africa? What are the consequences of obliterating the home of the wildlife that thrived in those locations and destroying the habitat’s delicate balance?

Nick Brandt, Wasteland with Cheetahs and Children
Nick Brandt, Wasteland with Cheetahs and Children, 2015, Archival Pigment Photograph

A Cautionary Tale

In a video released to accompany the series, Brandt recalls the elks, cave lions, and wolves of his native England. These magisterial mammals hailed from England and now belong to the past, mostly due to the country’s modernization encroaching on their environments. Brandt uses this example to emphasize his more comprehensive message, this loss of wildlife can happen in other places too.

“The damnation of animal life, the debasement of human life, the destructive conjugality between the two: It is not the animals who are the victims of environmental devastation, but also the humans now inhabiting these landscapes. It’s a cliché, but we must act urgently. If we continue to do nothing, future generations will be inheriting the sad remnants of a once-vibrant living planet. They will be inheriting dust.” – Nick Brandt.

Nick Brandt, Quarry with Giraffe
Nick Brandt, Quarry with Giraffe, 2014, Archival Pigment Photograph

Constructing “Sets”

Nick Brandt’s photographs are constructed specifically to show how short-term development has undermined the broader natural world. When constructing his “sets” for this series of photographs, Brandt made sure to adhere to sustainable practices and made the work with as small a footprint as possible. Along with his conscientious art practice, Nick Brandt has co-founded a highly effective conservation foundation called Big Life Foundation. The foundation protects over 1.6 million acres of wilderness and employs hundreds of local Masaai rangers, promoting positive changes for the environment.

Nick Brandt, Wasteland with Elephant
Nick Brandt, Wasteland with Elephant, 2015, Archival Pigment Photograph

The Time to Act is NOW

Nick Brandt’s photographs examine the consequences of urbanization in literal and poetic terms, presenting a visually striking and highly determined approach that underscores the need to protect wildlife and the environment. Brandt creates profound, moving photography that reminds the viewer that human life will be diminished by transforming a landscape into one that fails to align our human needs with those of the broader ecosystem. His work reminds us that it is time to act now and conserve the wondrous natural beauty of the planet.