These images provide a stark contrast to today's East Africa and what it could become forever.
Photographer Nick Brandt first discovered his love for snapping photos 20 years ago when he was in Tanzania, but he claims that animals were his first true love. He has combined these passions into one photo series that serves as both a cautionary tale and a wake-up call to those advocating for further urban development of Kenya and places around the world.
The photo series is called “Inherit the Dust” and features photos that Brandt took previously in East Africa. He went through 12 years of footage, all negatives since he works exclusively with film, to pick the perfect portraits of giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and many other species and set them against the harsh, urban background of Kenya’s developing cities.
“Africa has the ability to become a superpower when it comes to nature tourism,” Brandt said when proclaiming that Kenya and other African countries could have a potentially different future.
Putting together this photo series was no easy task. When selecting photos, Brandt was surprised to find that the shots he previously deemed imperfect were now the ideal photos for the settings he was looking for. He also hired a scout to look for locations in advance while he selected the shots and had them made into 30-foot panel prints. He scheduled the shoot for Africa’s rainy season, but when he arrived the crew still had to contend with sunny days that required them to sit around and wait for the right sky to capture the photograph. Brandt also said that sometimes the locations weren’t quite right, meaning they often had to lug the panel somewhere else that fit better. His use of film for this project made things even more complicated because he had to wait several weeks after shooting the project to develop the film at home.
At first, Brandt would position the human subjects that surrounded the image because he thought choreographing their movements was the right artistic choice. He was surprised, however, when he felt that his photos weren’t coming out right as a result.
“I realized within a couple of days that was creating stiff, dull, unexciting results,” he said. “I wanted the impression that these panels were ghosts in the landscape and the people living there were totally oblivious to them. It instantly worked better by letting people get on with what they are getting on with.”
This certainly adds to the theme of an era lost to development, where the residents have no idea whose bones they are metaphorically (or literally) standing on as a result of their insistence to build. While development, poaching, and trophy hunting continue to claim the lives of thousands of animals in Africa annually, the local residents not involved in any of these decisions see less and less of these iconic animals that once roamed these lands.
Brandt also co-founded the Big Life Foundation, which employs Maasai rangers and provides them with the necessary equipment to combat poaching in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem of East Africa. His combined efforts of capturing controversial moments on film and continuing to run an organization that seeks to protect wildlife are truly admirable.
Scroll through the photos below to see more from Brandt’s series.