Nick Brandt has a bone to pick. In his latest exhibition, Inherit the Dust, a series of photographs on show at the Custot Gallery in Alserkal Avenue, he explores the impact of human activity on the natural world in Africa.
Brandt started out as a music video director, working with the likes of Moby and Michael Jackson. It was on the set of Jackson’s Earth Song in Tanzania that Brandt fell in love with wildlife and decided to concentrate on photography. “It was the best medium to convey my love of, and fascination with nature. I wanted to create a [lasting homage] to a beautiful natural world that’s disappearing before our eyes,” he says.
That’s what Brandt has set out to do with Inherit the Dust. He made life-size prints of animals such as elephants, rhinos and lions, put them on large panels and photographed them in cities or quarries – “locations where animals such as these used to roam, but as a result of human impact, no longer do,” he explains.
To make these images, Brandt used photos that he’d taken over the past ten years. Setting up the shoots proved to be difficult, with “up to 23 men at a time, carrying 30-foot-high panels in 100-degree heat.” Once they were set up, all Brandt had to do was wait for the right clouds to appear – he wanted those that were “sombre, gloomy and wintry”.
People didn’t seem to mind, or even notice him, either, he says. “In some of the poorest areas, most of the people had way, way more important things to think about than some crazy guy putting giant photos of elephants up in the middle of the dump.”
The end results are impressive, but as Brandt says, “Many just think I did it in Photoshop”. While the images might look good, Brandt also wants to impart a message with them. “The photos appear to offer little hope.
They seem to be dystopian visions,” he says, “but the point is, these animals still remain in parts of Africa, albeit fewer parts by the day. We still have a chance to protect and preserve the places and animals”.
Hopefully that will happen. Otherwise – as Brandt is saying with this series – future generations will inherit nothing but dust.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 10am-7pm. Until Feb 28. Custot Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, www.custotgallerydubai.ae (04 346 8148).