The majesty of the dance of life and death is celebrated by photographer Nick Brandt, currently on exhibition at Atlas Gallery. Brandt travels to East Africa to capture images of almost shocking serenity and ferocity. He explores the decimation of wildlife at human hands, particularly through poaching. But the creatures that are encountered here, although majestic, are also equally savage; nature can also be red in tooth and claw. This exhibition also marks the publication of Brandt’s eponymous third book in a trilogy, documenting the endangered wildlife and landscapes of East Africa.
The greyscale photographs are hauntingly beautiful, but belie a darker edge. The images are necessarily stark and striking, but also reveal the vulnerability of the subjects.Landscapes are overshadowed by foreboding skies, and the rough textures of desiccated earth and windswept vegetation. There is an expressive use of light and darkness in these photographs.
A lioness glances towards the viewer from above the carcass of a freshly-killed wildebeest. A curiously decayed fish eagle, its eyeless skull protruding from calcified feathers, appears to spread its wings again against a leaden sky, its mummified corpse almost reanimated. Images of hunting trophies are juxtaposed with images of the living animals in their environment, with startling effect. In one shot, a lioness carries her tiny cub across a parched landscape, while another photo reveals the image of a taxidermied and mounted lion’s head, appearing to imperiously survey its former territory.
A herd of elephants mourns, one resting its trunk upon a weathered skull of a long-fallen comrade. An elephant calf rests its forehead against its sleeping mother, and in another frame, a mother elephant stands over her sleeping calf, her eyes closed. In other shots, a long line of rangers display pairs of gigantic tusks, while another ranger cradles a pair of tusks in his arms, simultaneously seeming to grieve for the fallen beast he was meant to protect yet appearing to resemble an elephant’s skull, resting over cracked, parched earth.
These are poignant, dark images of a ravaged land.
Across the Ravaged Land runs at Atlas Gallery, 28 Cork Street, until 9 November. Open Monday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-6pm. Admission Free.
See also Wildlife Photographer of the Year.