Nick Brandt’s Ode to Africa
With the artistry of a portraitist and the zeal of a conservationist, Nick Brandt finds beauty in the wild.
In this collection of black-and-white nature photographs, Nick Brandt makes many of the world’s wildest and most unfettered inhabitants appear elegant and serene. Combining splendid natural backdrops — flowing grasslands, rugged outcroppings, billowing skies — with a portraitist’s approach to the animals, these images show not only the reckless beauty of the region’s vanishing wilds but also the humanity of its creatures. “I believe that being close to the animal makes a huge difference in the photographer’s ability to reveal its personality,” Brandt writes in On This Earth, noting that he does not use telephoto lenses with his Pentax 67II film camera. “Many of these moments have been achieved by one not-so-simple thing: getting very, very close to the animals.”
As a result, the pictures have an uncanny intimacy. “Nick’s exquisite photographs arouse deep emotions,” writes famed conservationist Jane Goodall in her introduction to the book. “It’s almost impossible to look through his work without sensing the personalities of the beings whom he has photographed.”
With his images shown in fine-art exhibitions throughout Europe and North America, Brandt brings a compositionally precise and painterly style to a genre dominated by action shots and documentary image making. In addition to heightened contrasts and other visual effects — for more on Brandt’s photo techniques see Technology & Vision, page 31 — he often employs blurred and faded borders to recall the look of antique photographs. Born and raised in England, Brandt studied film and painting at St. Martin’s School of Art in London and directed music videos and commercials before embarking on his quest to document the African wilderness. “My images are unashamedly idyllic and romantic, a kind of enchanted Africa,” notes the artist. “They are my elegy to a world that is steadily, tragically vanishing.”
Book: On This Earth: Photographs from East Africa, by Nick Brandt (Chronicle, $40), 130 pages, 121/2×101/2 inches