Few photographers have ever considered the photography of wild animals, as distinctly opposed to the genre of Wildlife Photography, as an art form. The emphasis has generally been on capturing the drama of wild animals inaction, on capturing that dramatic single moment, as opposed to simply animals in the state of being.
I’ve always thought this something of a wasted opportunity. The wild animals of Africa lend themselves to photographs that extend aesthetically beyond the norm of 35mm-color telephoto wildlife photography. And so it is, that in my own way, I would like to yank the subject matter of wildlife into the arena of fine art photography. To take photographs that transcend what has been a largely documentaries’ genre.
Aside from using certain impractical photographic techniques, there’s one thing I do whilst shooting that I believe makes a big difference: I get extremely close to these very wild animals, often within a few feet of them. I don’t use telephoto lenses. This is because I want to see as much of the sky and landscape as possible–to see the animals within the context of their environment. That way, the photos become as much about the atmosphere of the place as the animals. And being that close to the animals, I get a real sense of intimate connection to them, to the specific animal in front of me. Sometimes a deliberate feeling that they’re almost presenting themselves for a studio portrait.
Why the animals of Africa in particular? And more particularly still, East Africa?
There is perhaps something more profoundly iconic, mythical, mythological even, about the animals of East Africa, as opposed to say, the Arctic or South America. There is also something deeply, emotionally stirring and affecting about the plains of Africa – the vast green rolling plains punctuated by the graphically perfect acacia trees.
My images are unashamedly idyllic and romantic, a kind of enchanted Africa.
They’re my elegy to a world that is steadily, tragically vanishing. – Nick Brandt
“Nick Brandt’s images of the animals of Eastern Africa take one’s breath away. These powerful glimpses of another world are so intimate one might hear the rustle of brush as a cheetah makes herself known, or the breathing of a lion as he stands alert. One cannot help but connect with these animals. They each have a unique personality. But it is not mere intimacy that attracts. Brandt’s pictures are beautifully composed, sensuous portraits. Heartbreakingly beautiful, these strong and vital creatures seem somehow fragile, ephemeral. We must ensure that its not only in images that they are preserved.” – Black & White Magazine, USA
“Combining splendid natural backdrops with a portraitist’s approach to animals, the images in “On This Earth” show not only the reckless beauty of Africa’s vanishing wilds but also the humanity of its creatures. The photos have an uncanny intimacy. 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.” – American Photo, USA (Top 10 Photographic Books of 2005)
“The haunting images in Nick Brandt’s “On This Earth” seem less like a documentary than like spirit photos of mythical beasts. Living testimony to the ghostly beauty and the fragility of nature, these magnificent creatures will convince you (if indeed you had any doubts) that animals not only have minds and hearts but also spirits and souls.” -O: The Oprah Magazine
“His approach is the antithesis of conventional wildlife photography and moves his work into the arena of fine art. . . . shows you how animal pictures should be taken.” – The Daily Telegraph, UK
“Wildlife photography has become a holiday and adventure cliche: have telephoto lens, will snap view up rhino’s nostril — so uninteresting, so blah. And then there’s Nick Brandt. Brandt eschews the telephoto lens in favour of patience combined with a rare courage, determination and an artist’s eye to photograph wildlife. The results are animals so accustomed to Brandt’s presence and so untroubled by him that his pictures are breathtakingly beautiful and touching in their honesty and emotion….He clearly has an affinity with these glorious creatures that’s heart-stopping. “ – Sunday Telegraph, Australia
“Nick’s exquisite photographs arouse deep emotions. They inspire a sense of awe at the beauty of creation and the sacredness of life. It’s almost impossible to look through his work without sensing the personalities of the beings whom he has photographed.” – Jane Goodall, Primatologist and Conservationist
«Nick Brandt’s photographs are both epic and iconic. It’s a vision of Africa that we have not seen before.” – Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer
“Nick Brandt’s photography is beautiful and elegiac in a classic way, and also ‘strange’ in the best sense; those who know East Africa must grieve to think that our own species could be so greedy and unwise as to let such magnificent creatures disappear.” – Peter Matthiessen, Author of “At Play in the Fields of the Lord”
“The photographs of Nick Brandt are both beautiful and haunting. They come upon you in a flush of abundance that is almost impossible to recover from…. You are about to enter a world of the imagination where all the animals are real, both fragile and full of grace.” – Alice Sebold, Author of “The Lovely Bones”
“Sus fotografías, de un increíble romanticismo e impregnadas de una plasticidad casi pictórica, recuperan los antiguos senderos de la nostalgia, esplendor y belleza de un continente indómito de naturaleza salvaje, tan infinitamente hermoso como cruel, extenso y lleno de contrastes, e increíblemente seductor como es África, y que lamentablemente, nunca recuperará.” – Carlos Roda
“Sus fotografías, de un increíble romanticismo e impregnadas de una plasticidad casi pictórica, recuperan los antiguos senderos de la nostalgia, esplendor y belleza de un continente indómito de naturaleza salvaje, tan infinitamente hermoso como cruel, extenso y lleno de contrastes, e increíblemente seductor como es África.” – Luis Martínez Aniesa
“African wildlife has never looked so regal and mysterious as in Brandt’s grave photographs. His elephants appear as weighty as the pyramids. His rhinos look more ancient than carbon. His apes know something we don’t. Given the multitude of human disasters in Africa, is it an indulgence to lose yourself in pictures that carry no hint of the wars and famines outside the frame? Not when the pictures are such powerful reminders that Africa is also a magnificent—and endangered—treasure house of animal life.” – Time Magazine (Time Top Five Photographic Books of 2005)
In the “Diula” language in Mali, the term « dugutigui » (chief of the village), literally translated, means: «owner of the village»; «dugu» means village and «tigui», owner. Probably the term is the result of the contraction of «dugu kuntigui» (literally: chief of the village).
Yeah, they are!
I’ve been living 18 years in Africa (now in Argentina) and I miss that continent badly…
Powerful, exotic, and mystical…my favorite has got to be the giraffe next to the tree…Inspiring photography!
Powerful, exotic, and mystical… perfectly described… but not only the great pictures of the post. Africa itself could be accurately defined as you say.
I have spent 18 years of my life living in several countries in that continent and besides changing many preconceived concepts, it was the most intense part of my life for one reason or another.
I’m living in Argentina (white Africa?) right now, but missing black Africa almost everyday…
Not mine… but great!
You flatter me way much… 🙂
Very good article, thank you for posting this.
This article and the idea of posting it made me really happy, since I am such a fan of wildlife and B&W photography…. 😀
When the southeaster blows
with mighty main oak trees sway,
break and are uprooted on the shores
while people shelter indoors
from the daily sieving winter rain,
sunless life seems mundane
while doing the same chores
Brilliant pics and beautiful poetry… U really miss Africa a lot…
Wilderness gave us knowledge. Wilderness made us human. We came from there. Perhaps that is why so many of us feel a strong bond to this land called Africa; it is the land of our youth.
Poetic and genuine reply 🙂
as it should be!
great shots! very awesome and giving me surprised how could him do such best works!
envy that u had chance living in Africa! any special experiences u had over there? ….may search around in your blog, amazing!
Nick Brandt’s images are just great. They don’t focus on the actions of wild animals, but their souls, to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature which live or are latent in all things. His are good black and white photographs, as life itself. There’s black, there’s white, and shades in between.
I’ve been living in Africa over 18 years, so I have one thing or two say. My problem is that most of the interesting things I’ve experienced in that continent are not publishable. Thanks for your feedback.
haha, not publishable~ ofcoz, they are your privacy!