Nick Brandt

May 01, 2012

by Sara Namias

"Take a look at the elephant in the photo above. His name is Igor (as named at birth by Cynthia Moss of Amboseli Elephant Research). For fifty years, he wandered the plains and woodlands in East Africa, so relaxed that in 2007he allowed me to get this close to take his portrait, 'Elephant Drinking, Amboselli, 2007'. Two years later, in October 2009, he was killed by poached for his ivory. In the Amboselli region of East Africa -an extraordinary two million acre ecosystem in the shadows of Mount Kilimandjaro, straddling Kenya Tanzania-Igor was just one of many elephant killed in the last fez years by poachers. Since 2008, there has been a massively increased demand for ivory from China and Far East. Ivory prices have soared from $200 a pound in 2004 to more than $2,000 a pound today. Some experts estimate that as many as 35,000 elephant a year are being slaughtered, 10% of Africa's elephant population each year alone. And the killing isn't limited to just elephants. Lions, tigers, giraffes and zebras are being killed, some for their hides, others for their meat and, in particular, powdered rhino horn which is now more expensive than gold. No longer able to watch the destruction of this extraordinary ecosystem and its animals, I established Big Life Foundation in September 2010 with Igor as its unfortunate poster child.
More than 120 rangers were hired to defend the most critical areas of the region, 14 outposts were built and 13 vehicles with state-of -the-art-night-vision equipment were purchased. Thanks to this new level of coordinated protection, as of August 2011 many poachers-including some of the worst-have been arrested. Africa is Africa because of the animals there and the poachers are stealing them. If things don't change, within the next twenty years, the only way we will see lions, elephants and tigers is through a zoom lens.
Where I photograph, in Kenya and Tanzania, since the first time I went to today, I have seen things happen even worst pessimist could not imagined. When in 1995 I first drove the main road from Nairobi to Arusha, I saw giraffes, zebras, gazelles, impalas, and wildebeest living in a completely open areas. Now, on the same drive, 17 years later, you won't see a single wild animal the entire four-hour drive".
Surprisingly, it was animals and nature that first captured Nick Brandt's heart, not photography. This great photographer from London took up photography as the perfect media for him to best express his feelings. His major works exhibit his tremendous experience with African continent and its inhabitants and, above all, a special sensibility, love, respect and admiration for these marvelous creatures. Photographing with skill and discretion and without telephoto lens, chimpanzees, monkeys, zebras and giraffes have let him into their world and have allowed him to get close. With them, each time Nick Brandt has created such a close feeling that he has succeeded in revealing their personalities, like a parent photographing his own child. This is why his photographs are so incredible.
For example, the one of the lion before the storm: just looking at it we seem to feel the same breeze that ruffles its mane. Nick Brandt's photographs are also magical because of emotionally moving and timeless atmosphere created thanks to the black-and-white (or sometimes sepia) he has chosen use from his very first works. Extremely attuned to aesthetics, this choose was dictated by his desire to concentrate on the light, shade and form which allowed him to obtain a depth of field that envelops viewers and draws them, magnetically, into the scene.
Years ago, in an interview published in Zoom, he stated that "my photographs only show the idyllic aspect of Africa". In the last volume of his trilogy that will be released in September 2013, Nick Brandt shows us a darker view of the disappearance of this natural paradise called East Africa.