Nick Brandt

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Nick Brandt
Born 1964 (age 52–53)
London, England, United Kingdom
Education Saint Martin's School of Art
Occupation Photographer
Spouse(s) Orla Brady (2002–present)

Nick Brandt (born 1964) is an English photographer who photographs exclusively in the African continent, one of his goals being to record a last testament to the wild animals and places there before they are destroyed by the hands of man.[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 the United States in 1992 and directed many award-winning music videos for the likes of Michael Jackson ("Earth Song", "Stranger in Moscow" and "Cry"), Moby, Jewel, XTC, Badly Drawn Boy.[3]

It was while directing "Earth Song", a music video for Jackson in Tanzania, in 1995 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 2001, Brandt embarked upon his ambitious photographic project: a trilogy of books to memorialize the vanishing natural grandeur of East Africa.

Lion Before Storm, Sitting Profile Masai Mara 2006

His photography from 2001 to 2012 bore little relation to the colour documentary-style wildlife photography that is the norm. He photographed on medium-format black and white film without telephoto or zoom lenses. (He used a Pentax 67II with only two fixed lenses.) His work was a combination of epic panoramas of animals within dramatic landscapes (for example, Hippos on the Mara River, Masai Mara, 2006; Cheetah & Cubs Lying on Rock, Serengeti 2007), and graphic portraits more akin to studio portraiture of human subjects from a much earlier era, as if these animals were already long dead (Elephant Drinking, Amboseli, 2007)[4]

Elephant Drinking, Amboseli, 2007

Brandt did not use telephoto lenses because he believes that being close to the animals makes 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."[5]

As American photography critic Vicki Goldberg writes: "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".[6][7] Photographs like (Cheetah & Cubs, Masai Mara, 2003; Lion Before Storm – Sitting Profile, Masai Mara 2006) are good examples of this.

In his afterword in On This Earth, Brandt explained the reasons for the methods he used at that 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.[8]

On This Earth[edit]

The first book in the trilogy, On This Earth (Chronicle Books, 2005) constitutes 66 photos taken 2000–2004, with introductions by the conservationist and primatologist Jane Goodall and the author Alice Sebold. The photographs in this book are an unadulterated vision of an African paradise, deliberately contrasting with what is to follow in the subsequent books. Elephant with Exploding Dust, Amboseli 2004, the photo on the book's cover, has since become one of Brandt's best-known images.

Critical response to the book, heralded Brandt's photographic achievement. Black and White magazine called his photos "heartbreakingly beautiful".[9]

A Shadow Falls[edit]

The second book in the trilogy, A Shadow Falls, (Abrams, 2009) features 58 photographs taken 2005–2008. It is generally regarded to be superior to "On This Earth". In additional introductions, philosopher Peter Singer,[10] author of the groundbreaking Animal Liberation, explains why Brandt's photographs speak to an increasing human moral conscience about our treatment of animals. The photography critic Vicki Goldberg[11] places Brandt's work in the history of the medium.[12]

As the title of the book implies, this book, although replete with images of ethereal beauty and poetry, is a more melancholic interpretation of the world he photographs. Indeed, critic Vicki Goldberg writes: " A Shadow Falls, taken in its entirely, is a love story without a happily ever after."

The photos in the book are deliberately sequenced: the opening images are of an unspoiled lush green world, filled with animals and water ("Wildebeest Arc, Masai Mara 2006" ). As the book progresses, the photos become gradually more stark, until towards the end, the trees are dead, the water gone, the animals are vastly reduced in numbers, until the book closes with the final ambiguous image, of a lone, abandoned ostrich egg on a parched lake bed. "Abandoned Ostrich Egg, Amboseli 2007".

In addition the Artist's Edition book, entitled, On this Earth, a Shadow Falls, (Abrams Books/Big Life Editions) was published in 2010, combining the best 90 photos from the first two books, in a larger volume with much superior printing to the first two books.

Across the Ravaged Land[edit]

The completion of Nick Brandt’s trilogy: "On This Earth, A Shadow Falls, Across the Ravaged Land." Release date, 3 September 2013 (Abrams Books, 2013), documents the disappearing natural world and animals of East Africa. This is the third and final volume of Nick Brandt's work which reveals the darker side of his vision of East Africa’s animal kingdom and the juxtaposition of mankind.

"Across the Ravaged Land" introduces humans in his photography for the first time. One such example is Ranger with Tusks of Elephant Killed at the Hands of Man, Amboseli 2011. This photograph features one of the rangers employed by Big Life Foundation, the Foundation that Nick Brandt started in 2010. The ranger holds the tusks of an elephant killed by poachers in the years prior to the Foundation's inception.[13][14]

Ranger with Tusks of Killed Elephant, 2011

Brandt also takes hunting trophies, and perfectly preserved creatures petrified by the salts of a Rift Valley soda lake, and places them in their former habitats. In both instances, the creatures appear in an ethereal animated state, seemingly posing for their portraits.

Inherit The Dust[edit]

Inherit The Dust (Edwynn Houk Editions, 2016). Three years after the conclusion of his trilogy, On This Earth, A Shadow Falls Across the Ravaged Land, Nick Brandt returned to East Africa to photograph the escalating changes to the continent’s natural world. Brandt writes in the essay in the book: "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." [15]

In a series of epic panoramas, Brandt records the impact of man in places where animals used to roam, but no longer do. In each location, Brandt erected a life size panel of one of his earlier (unpublished) animal portrait photographs, setting the panels within a world of explosive urban development, factories, wasteland and quarries. The people within the photographs carry on with their lives, oblivious to the animals that are now no more than ghosts in the landscape. The photograph, Wasteland with Elephant, is such an example.

The book quickly received much praise.[16] Art critic Vicki Goldberg wrote: "In Inherit the Dust, (Brandt's) astonishing panoramas...are a jolting combination of beauty, decay, and admonishment. The result is an eloquent and complex "J'accuse", for the people are as victimized by "development" as the animals are. The breadth, detail, and incongruity of Brandt's panoramas suggest a collision between Bruegel and an apocalypse in waiting."

Wasteland with Elephant, 2015, from Inherit the Dust

Prints and exhibitions[edit]

Brandt shoots on film, but scans his negatives, and then dodges and burns the images in Photoshop. He doesn't add or clone animals or skies – with great luck and patience, the scenes are as he saw them. Brandt's limited edition prints are of two kinds- archival pigment prints using a wide format inkjet printer, and large platinum/palladium prints using giant digitally manufactured contact negatives. His large limited edition prints, up to 60"x80" (150x200cm) in size, have, as of May 2012, sold for up to $210,000.

Since 2004, Brandt has had multiple solo exhibitions worldwide, including in New York at the Edwynn Houk Gallery, Los Angeles at the Fahey Klein Gallery [1], London, Berlin, Sydney, Munich, Brussels, and Paris.

His first large solo museum exhibition was held at Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm, Sweden in October 2011 – January 2012, with 140,000 visitors. His second show there, of the completed trilogy, was held in May–September 2015, and had 175,000 visitors.[17] In May 2016, Fotografiska was the first museum to show Brandt's new body of work, Inherit the Dust.

As of 2015, he is represented in the USA by Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York, Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles, in Europe by Atlas Gallery in London and Galerie Camera Work in Berlin.

Brandt currently lives in the mountains of southern California.

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, Nick Brandt founded the non-profit organization called Big Life Foundation, dedicated to the conservation of Africa's wildlife and ecosystems. 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. Headed up in Kenya by renowned conservationist Richard Bonham, multiple fully equipped teams of anti-poaching rangers have been placed in newly built outposts in the critical areas throughout the 2-million-acre (8,100 km2) + area, resulting in a dramatically reduced incidence of killing and poaching of wildlife in the ecosystem.[18]


  • Nick Brandt, On This Earth (Chronicle Books, 2005).
  • Nick Brandt, A Shadow Falls (Abrams, 2009).
  • Nick Brandt, On This Earth, A Shadow Falls (Abrams/D.A.P. /Big Life Editions, 2010/2012/2014).
  • Nick Brandt, Across the Ravaged Land (Abrams Books, 2013).
  • Nick Brandt, Inherit The Dust (Edwynn Houk Editions, 2016).


  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
  3. ^ Cry Music Video 2001, Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  4. ^ Amboseli National Park Retrieved 22 January 2010
  5. ^ Profile Nick Brandt Retrieved 21 November 2010
  6. ^ American Photography Critic Vicki Goldberg, Retrieved 14 January 2010
  7. ^ Vicki Goldberg, Introduction, A Shadow Falls, Retrieved 11 January 2010
  8. ^ Afterword, from On This Earth, Retrieved 11 January 2010
  9. ^ Black and White Magazine Article December 2009 Retrieved 11 January 2010
  10. ^ Peter Singer, Foreword Retrieved 11 January 2010
  11. ^ Vicki Goldberg, Introduction, Retrieved 11 January 2010
  12. ^ Synopsis & Review Retrieved 11 January 2010
  13. ^ In East Africa Fine Art Meets Conservation, 5 October 2011
  14. ^ Nick Brandt, The Start of the Final Book Retrieved 21 November 2010
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Exhibitions 2004 to Present Retrieved 9 January 2010
  18. ^ Big Life Foundation Retrieved 21 November 2010

External links[edit]