Review by Douglas Stockdale •
Nick Brandt’s latest photobook, The Day May Break, is another evolutionary step in his process of investigating the environmental and ecological issues facing the African continent that represent the greater issues facing mankind worldwide. He utilizes his extensive cinematic experience to create emotionally charged photographic portraits that juxtapose people and animals to try to illustrate the looming dangers of climate change. In his earlier book-work, he focused more on the plight of the African wildlife and in this and his last photobook, This Empty World, he expands his focus on the how the climate change threatens mankind as well.
I am witnessing here in the United States similar climate changes that Brandt narrates in this book; the broad western regions that are facing profound drought while concurrently in the eastern parts of the county enduring catastrophic rains. The effects of both extremes are equally devastating here in America as it is in Africa. Lives are lost and the broader economic impact is terrible. We are in more of similar dire straits than we are probably comfortable in accepting as to the profound effects of worldwide climate change.
The greater issue for Africa is how this climate change equally impacts the wildlife, reducing the area that these large animals need to roam and sustain themselves. When the change to the ecology substantially impacts the human population, who try to sustain their families under these forbidding conditions, it creates another factor that further leads to the destruction of the wildlife. As Phillip Prodger writes about this project, ‘Showing how deeply our fates are intertwined, Brandt portrays people and animals together, causing us to reflect on the real-life consequences of climate change…a critical moment in the Anthropocene’.
In Brandt’s previous book, This Empty World, he is juxtaposing the African wildlife with its citizenry using digital magic, overlaying an earlier capture of wildlife with subsequent sets built to create composite images mashing up wildlife and the people of Africa. In this latest photobook he actually brings together the people and the animals, which creates an underlying sense of visual tension. To make these collaborative portraits he traveled to various animal reserves in Africa to stage these portraits of the ‘wildlife’ with the local people. The animals depicted are rescues that can never be re-wilded, thus making these beautiful animals relatively safe for human strangers to be photographed close to them, which creates a corresponding sense of drama. Brandt then added to his staged scenes an immersion ‘fog’ to create more ambiguity as to the specific location of these portraits while providing a consistent moody atmosphere. His subjects appear to move in and out of the fog, adding to the instability and uncertainty of the moment.
Brandt introduces other elements into his compositions that speak to the economic issues facing both the individuals and wildlife; a bare shining light bulb, a spindly step ladder that raises an individual to a similar height as a giraffe (appropriately named Sky), an old iron bed frame that is sparse, a simple unadorned wooden bench to sit on, and crude wooden boxes as standing or sitting platforms. There is not much but the bare necessities, which suggests the underlying economic plight facing these individuals and an unrelenting poverty as a direct result of climate change.
His subjects appear stoic in their demeanor as this is not a series of smiling faces. The combination portraits provide much to contemplate about as to their (and our) future. The low contrast images and over-all ‘warm-grayness’ also contributes to the mood of these somber portraits. I find the inclusion of the bare light bulb shinning within a few of the combination portraits to be illuminating in a sense of metaphorically providing hope.
As a call to action, Brandt also includes ways for readers to participate in making changes by providing information about African wildlife conservancies that he has researched and recommends; Ol Pejeta Conservancy (Kenya), Wild is Life and Zen (Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery), Imire Rhino Wildlife Conservancy (Zimbabwe), Kuimba Shiri Bird Park (Zimbabwe), Oljogi Conservancy (Kenya), Simama Project (Kenya), Pelumi Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe) and his own Big Life Foundation.
This is a large book, incorporating a Smyth sewn binding allowing a lay flat display, which is a combination of beautiful and touching portraits that I find very inspirational for much-needed environmental changes.
Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal
The Day May Break – Nick Brandt
Photographer: Nick Brandt (born in London, England; lives in southern California, USA)
Publisher: Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH, Berlin, Germany, copyright 2021
Essays: Nick Brandt, Percival Everett, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Hardcover, Smyth sewn, with illustrated dust jacket, captions, Foundations information, Project notes (The Acoustic Album), Animal and people biographies, printing by Offsetdruckerei Karl Grammlich GmbH, binding by Josef Spinner Grossbuchbinderei GmbH, Germany, ISBN 978-3-7757-5089-9
Photobook Designer: Julia Wagner
Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).