The best wildlife photographers capture images of exotic creatures that go beyond documentation to become art. Nick Brandt is one such photographer. His books are filled with stunning images of cheetahs, lions, elephants – the large beasts of East Africa – in all their glory, printed in powerful high-contrast black and white. They are portraits, devoid of place. The reader can admire the gorilla, safe in the confines of its photo frame. But Brandt’s point is that they are not safe.
A talented and passionate advocate for wildlife and wild places, Brandt has spent his career educating people about the destruction of animal habitats and the loss of these irreplaceable beings facing extinction. His latest book, Inherit the Dust, makes his case in a brilliant way. Brandt made life-size prints of his animals and placed them in trash dumps or cities, places where the natural world has been altered by development and destruction. The king of beasts, his mane blowing in the breeze, looks out over a rock quarry, his natural habitat a wasteland. Two rhinos face a railroad track. A giraffe stands with its back to a factory.
The juxtapositions are startling. We are face to face with the destruction of something precious. We are impelled to realize that where we sit now, animals used to live. Brandt reminds us that it’s not too late to stop the environmental degradation of what remains of the places these gazelles, big cats, and primates call home. We can change course, saving what remains so African children aren’t someday sitting where the leopard and zebra once roamed.
Melanie Stetson Freeman is a Monitor staff photographer.