Nick Brandt

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Nick Brandt
Born1964 (age 58–59)
London, England, United Kingdom
EducationSaint Martin's School of Art
(m. 2002)

Nick Brandt (born 1964) is an English photographer. Brandt's work generally focuses on the rapidly disappearing natural world, as a result of environmental destruction, climate change and humans' actions.[1]

Background and early career[edit]

Born in 1964 and raised in London, England, Brandt studied Painting, and then Film at Saint Martin's School of Art.[2] He moved to California in 1992 and directed many award-winning music videos for the likes of Michael Jackson ("Earth Song", "Stranger in Moscow", "One More Chance"), Moby ("Porcelain"), Jewel ("Hands"), XTC ("Dear God") among others.[3]

It was in 1995 while directing "Earth Song"[4] in Tanzania that Brandt fell in love with the animals and land of East Africa.[5] In 2001, 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.[6]


On This Earth[edit]

In 2001, Brandt embarked upon his first photographic project: a trilogy of work to memorialize the vanishing natural grandeur of East Africa.[7]

This work bore little relation to the typical, color, documentary-style wildlife photography.[6] Brandt's images were mainly graphic portraits more akin to studio portraiture of human subjects from a much earlier era, as if these animals were already long dead. "The resulting photographs feel like artifacts from a bygone era".[6] Using a Pentax 67II with two fixed lenses, Brandt photographed on medium-format black and white film without telephoto or zoom lenses. 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."[8]

A book of the resulting photography, On This Earth,[9] was released in 2005 and constituted 66 photos taken from 2000 to 2004 with introductions by the conservationist and primatologist Jane Goodall, author Alice Sebold, and photography critic Vicki Goldberg.[10]

In the afterword, Brandt explained the reasons for the methods he used at the time: "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 every time 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."[11]

A Shadow Falls[edit]

Returning to Africa repeatedly from 2005 to 2008, Brandt continued the project. The second book in the trilogy, A Shadow Falls, was released in 2009 and featured 58 photographs taken during the preceding years.[12]

Writing in the introduction, Goldberg states: "Many pictures convey a rare sense of intimacy, as if Brandt knew the animals, had invited them to sit for his camera, and had a prime portraitist’s intuition of elegant as any arranged by Arnold Newman for his human high achievers."[13]

In additional introductions, philosopher Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, explains why Brandt's photographs speak to an increasing human moral conscience about our treatment of animals: "The photographs tell us, in a way that is beyond words, that we do not own this planet, and are not the only beings living on it who matter".[14]

Across the Ravaged Land[edit]

Ranger with Tusks of Killed Elephant, Amboseli, 2011

In 2013, Brandt completed the trilogy On This Earth, A Shadow Falls, Across the Ravaged Land (the titles designed to form one consecutive sentence) with Across the Ravaged Land. A book of the photography was released the same year.[15]

Across the Ravaged Land introduced humans in Brandt's photography for the first time. One such example is Ranger with Tusks of Elephant Killed at the Hands of Man, Amboseli, Kenya 2011.[16] This photograph features a ranger employed by Big Life Foundation, a foundation started by Brandt in 2010 to help preserve critical ecosystems in Kenya and Tanzania.[17] The ranger holds the tusks of an elephant of the Amboseli region killed by poachers.[6]

The Petrified[edit]

In 2013, Brandt released a photographic collection entitled The Petrified in which he collected animal carcasses petrified after drowning in the Lake Natron in Tanzania, as if their frozen carcasses were still perched in real life. The collection was featured in the Smithsonian Magazine.[18]

Inherit the Dust[edit]

Wasteland with Elephant, 2015

In 2014, Brandt returned to East Africa to photograph the escalating changes to the continent's natural world.[10] In a series of panoramic photographs, he recorded the impact of man in places where animals used to roam. In each location, he erected a life size panel of one of his animal portrait photographs, setting the panels within a world of urban development, factories, wasteland and quarries.[19]

A book of the work, Inherit the Dust, was published in 2016.[20] In the book, Brandt writes, "We are living through the antithesis of genesis right now. It took billions of years to reach a place of such wondrous diversity, and then in just a few shockingly short years, an infinitesimal pinprick of time, to annihilate that."[21]

Writing in LensCulture, editor Jim Casper stated: "The resulting wall-size prints are impeccably beautiful and stunning, as well as profoundly disturbing. They convey the vast spaces and light of contemporary Africa with a cinematic immersion and incredible detail. When standing in front of his images, the viewer is transported into the scenes – sometimes with wonder and awe and joy, and other times with overwhelming sadness, despair and disgust."[22] Photography critic Michelle Bogre further noted: "Nick Brandt’s new photographic work, Inherit the Dust, is his visual cry of anguish about the looming apocalypse for animals habitats in Africa... The resulting images are simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, because they illustrate the irreconcilable clash of past and present".[23]

This Empty World[edit]

Brandt's next project, This Empty World, was released in February 2019. The series was published in book form by Thames & Hudson.[24][25] This new project, "addresses the escalating destruction of the African natural world at the hands of humans, showing a world where, overwhelmed by runaway development, there is no longer space for animals to survive. The people in the photos also often helplessly swept along by the relentless tide of 'progress.'”[26]

Representing a thematic and technical evolution, the series required Brandt to develop and perfect a demanding new process.[27][25] The Brooklyn Rail described it as:

An ambitious undertaking, the project required six months to complete, and necessitated the building of large sets and night shoots amid relentless dust-storms. Initially, partial sets were constructed on Maasai land—one of the few places where animals and humans still coexist—and motion-activated cameras hidden from view. After many weeks, the animals became comfortable enough to enter these strange domains, triggering the camera as they did so. The requisite next-step involved completing the set—a petrol station for example or a highway—and enlisting a cast of local residents to populate each scene, before taking the second image, almost always from the same position as the first. The final photograph is created from a composite of both images; producing scenes in which large mammals appear lost within a human-dominated milieu.[28]

Says Brandt, "People still think the major issue with the destruction of wildlife in Africa is poaching, but especially in East Africa it's no longer the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the population explosion that is happening. With that comes an invasion of humanity and development into what was not so long ago wildlife habitat."[29]

The resulting large-scale prints (up to 60x130 in / 140x300 cm) were exhibited in near-simultaneous exhibitions in London (Waddington Custot), New York (Edwynn Houk Gallery), and Los Angeles (Fahey/Klein Gallery).[30]

The Day May Break[edit]

In September 2021, Brandt released a project titled The Day May Break, a series of photographs portraying people and animals that have been impacted by environmental degradation and destruction.[31][32] The photographs for this series were taken by Brandt in Kenya and Zimbabwe late in 2020.[33] Each photo captures threatened animals living in wildlife sanctuaries alongside people in those countries who have suffered from the effects of climate change such as farmers displaced and impoverished by years-long severe droughts.[34][35] The people and animals were photographed together in the same frame at the same time,[36][37] and were taken at five sanctuaries and conservancies.[36] In October 2021, LA Weekly art critic Shany Nys Dambrot said of the question the project poses “​is whether the day will break like sunrise, or like glass. For as gorgeous, rich and operatic as the images are, this is not an Edenic vision of coexistence, it’s an urgent plea for taking action.”[36] Photos from the project were featured in public exhibits in September 2021 at the Atlas Gallery in London and the Fahey Klein Gallery in Los Angeles,[36] and in January 2022 at the Polka Gallery in Paris.[38][35]

Big Life Foundation[edit]

In September 2010, in urgent response to the escalation of poaching in Africa due to increased demand from the Far East,[39] Brandt founded the non-profit organization Big Life Foundation, dedicated to the conservation of Africa's wildlife and ecosystems.[40]

With one of the most spectacular elephant populations in Africa being rapidly diminished by poachers, the Amboseli ecosystem—which straddles both Kenya and Tanzania—became the foundation's large-scale pilot project.[10][41]

Headed up in Kenya by conservationist Richard Bonham,[42] multiple fully equipped teams of anti-poaching rangers have been placed in newly built outposts in the critical areas throughout the more than 2-million-acre (8,100 km2) area.[43] This effort has resulted in a dramatically reduced incidence of killing and poaching of wildlife in the ecosystem.[44]

Big Life Foundation now employs several hundred rangers protecting approximately 2 million acres of ecosystem.[45]


  • On This Earth (2005)
  • A Shadow Falls (2009)
  • On This Earth, A Shadow Falls (2014)
  • Across the Ravaged Land (2013)
  • Inherit The Dust (2016)
  • This Empty World (2019)
  • The Day May Break (2021)

Selected exhibitions[edit]


  1. ^ Agricultural Expansion and Human Population Pressure on Semi-Arid Landscapes Retrieved 15 January 2010
  2. ^ Living on Earth Gallimard L., 21 December 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2010
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  4. ^ "Michael Jackson – Earth Song (Official Video)". Archived from the original on 20 December 2021. Retrieved 9 August 2018 – via YouTube.
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  6. ^ a b c d Meek, Miki (5 October 2011). "In East Africa, Fine Art Meets Conservation". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
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  10. ^ a b c Weideman, Paul (3 June 2016). "Requiem in photos: Nick Brandt's homage to the lost animals of East Africa". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  11. ^ Afterword, from On This Earth. Retrieved 11 January 2010
  12. ^ A Shadow Falls. September 2009. ISBN 9780810954151. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  13. ^ Vicki Goldberg, Introduction, On This Earth. Retrieved 11 January 2010
  14. ^ Peter Singer, Foreword, A Shadow Falls Retrieved 11 January 2010
  15. ^ Epstein, Robert. "Nick Brandt: End of Eden" (PDF). The Independent. No. 20 October 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  16. ^ Davidson, Barbara. "reFramed: In conversation with Nick Brandt". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  17. ^ Hawk, Steve. "Activist or Artist?" (PDF). No. March–April 2014. Sierra. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  18. ^ Stromberg, Joseph. "This Alkaline African Lake Turns Animals into Stone". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  19. ^ Bradner, Liesl (18 February 2016). "Nick Brandt's 'Inherit the Dust' photos track Africa's tragic urban sprawl". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  20. ^ Teicher, Jordan G. (7 March 2016). "Where East Africa's Majestic Animals Once Roamed". Slate. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  21. ^ Canby, Peter. "Elephants in Dust". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  22. ^ Casper, Jim. "Inherit the Dust". LensCulture. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  23. ^ Bogre, Michelle. "Animal Habitats in Life-Sized Urban Panoramas". American Photo. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  24. ^ "Nick Brandt: This Empty World". Thames & Hudson. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  25. ^ a b Basu, Tanya; Caminero, Kelly (22 February 2019). "Nick Brandt's 'This Empty World' Shows Lions, Elephants—and Humans—In Industrial Hellscapes". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  26. ^ Sanchez, Gabriel (24 April 2019). "These Haunting Photos Capture The Vanishing Wildlife Of Africa". Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  27. ^ Dunstan, Marsha (20 December 2019). "Best of February 2019 – Nick Brandt : This Empty World". The Eye of Photography. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  28. ^ Pateman, Daniel. "Nick Brandt: This Empty World". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  29. ^ Hardy, Michael. "Photos Show How Wildlife and Humans Collide on a Grand Scale". Wired. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  30. ^ Dunstan, Marsha (27 February 2019). "Nick Brandt : This Empty World". The Eye of Photography. L'Oeil de la Photographie. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  31. ^ Russell, Stephen A. (16 December 2021). "Capturing a vanishing world: Nick Brandt's surreal photography". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  32. ^ McKeone, Marion (10 October 2021). "Nick Brandt interview: Racing against time to capture a disappearing world". Business Post (Ireland). Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  33. ^ "Photo London 2021 : Nick Brandt : The Day May Break". The Eye of Photography. 8 September 2021. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  34. ^ Crespo MacLennan, Gloria (28 October 2021). "Humans and beasts in the face of climate tragedy". El Pais (Spain). Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  35. ^ a b Nicholls, Beth (20 January 2022). "New emotive climate change photo series by Nick Brandt to be exhibited in Paris". Digital Camera World. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  36. ^ a b c d Nys Dambrot, Shana (14 October 2021). "Nick Brandt's Portraits From the Ends of the Earth". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  37. ^ Swann, Dee; Brandt, Nick (16 December 2021). "These haunting photographs bring to life the stories of how humans and animals are affected by climate change". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  38. ^ H., Bérénice (28 January 2022). "Que faire à Paris ce week-end ? (28-30 janvier)". Le Bonbon. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  39. ^ Lombard, Louisa (20 September 2012). "Dying for Ivory". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  40. ^ Butet-Roch, Laurence. "These Photographers Launched Their Own Foundations to Create Change". Time. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  41. ^ Clark, Nick (14 May 2020). "How big a threat does coronavirus pose to wildlife in Africa?". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  42. ^ Vidal, John (5 December 2014). "One man's fight against Africa's ivory poachers". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  43. ^ Edge, Jane (17 April 2015). "Elephant Charities: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". Africa Geographic. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  44. ^ Clark, Nick (14 May 2020). "How big a threat does coronavirus pose to wildlife in Africa?". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  45. ^ Duggan, Briana. "Anti-poaching efforts in Kenya focus on saving animals – and people too". PRI. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
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External links[edit]