The Saddest Book I've Ever Read / by Simon Ng

The rate of extinction today is oft debated, with considerable variation in estimates a function of the assumptions made and the challenging act of collecting empirical evidence to validate simulation models. But for some species, say elephants, we have very accurate data derived from comprehensive surveys: the mega-fauna of Africa are under constant threat, and not just from poachers feeding the Asian market for bone, hair and testicles, but also from population growth, urbanisation and the effects of climate change. 

Nick Brandt, a photographer working in Africa, has spent the better part of two decades documenting the changing face of the world's most ancient continent. He is the founder of the Big Life Foundation, and has recently produced a book, Inherit the Dust, that explores the relationship between Africa's remarkable fauna and the diminishing place they have in Africa's future. 

Inherit the Dust, Nick Bandt, 2015

Inherit the Dust, Nick Bandt, 2015

Each image in this landmark book is stitched together from multiple shots taken on a Mamiya 6x7 film camera. But the panels of the animals aren't Photoshopped in; they were erected in the landscape and shot in place. Nick has chosen a monochrome treatment, which amplifies the emotional content of the images, and the large panels are worn and ragged at the edges, recalling old postcards: a glimpse of something long gone and almost forgotten. 

The juxtaposition between the magnificent creatures Nick has captured and the forlorn, damaged and desolate landscapes that are all that remain of the natural habitats these creatures once occupied is, in some cases, made more poignant and tragic by the accompanying scenes of social collapse: children, some as young as six and seven, high from sniffing glue; people foraging for food in a garbage dump; men without prospects sitting beneath a sign that proudly claims "Lean back, you're back on track".

If you buy only one photography book in your life, make it this one.


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