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Across the Ravaged Land

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Thursday Oct 10, 2013
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The third book in photographer Nick Brandt’s ultimately moving trilogy is as gorgeous as its two predecessors, but packs a larger punch.

Entitled "Across the Ravaged Land," the new book debuts eight years after the original "On this Earth" and just one year after his follow up "A Shadow Falls." Brandt once again takes his love of the animals of East Africa and has evolved his photography to move from portraiture to heavy-hearted lament. When put together, the three books form the phrase "On this Earth a Shadow Falls Across the Ravaged Land."

This perfectly encapsulates the path the books have taken and what inspired Brandt to form the" Big Life Foundation" along with conservationist Richard Bonham. Responding to the increasing slaughter of wildlife in East Africa, the foundation has raised enough money to employ much needed rangers to protect two million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli/Tasavo/Kilimanjaro ecosystem. This has overwhelmingly reduced poaching and has assisted in the arrests of 880 poachers. So you can think of this book as the illustration for why the foundation was started, and why we must continue to fight for animals that are on the verge of extinction.

As is Brandt’s style, the gorgeously shot photos of the animals all look like portraits done in careful pose in a studio. Not so. Brandt goes out into the wilderness and garners the trust of the animals enough that he can get pictures from just feet away. The result is some of the most majestic pictures of wild creatures ever put on film.

And film he does. To this day he shuns digital photography, preferring a medium-format Pentax 6711 with waist-level viewfinder and just 10 shots per roll. As he states in his forward, there is "no zoom, no autofocus, and no image stabilizer lenses." Digital was too clinical for him, and didn’t give the photographs the right atmosphere. To view his pictures is to understand why. The detail and composition of these photos is jaw-dropping and give the beasts a closeness to us that makes them relatable. We feel that they are part of us and we are part of them. It’s fascinating to witness.

But as beautiful as all of the photographs are, there is a darkness that washes over the plates as we get toward the end. In more than one, Rangers hold enormous tusks that have been cut from an elephant’s body (many time while still alive). The images are tragic and haunting.

Even more haunting are the images of calcified birds and small mammals that Brandt found by Lake Natron in Tanzania. The ph balance and temperature of the lake cause the calcification, although it’s not something that happens immediately, as the numerous recent Facebook postings would suggest. Regardless, the images are beautiful and moving despite being super creepy.

What Brandt has done in his final book is bring his love of East Africa’s wildlife to the masses. He’s allowed us to revel in the beauty of his technique and the creatures he has chosen to give to the world. But he’s also reminded us that it can all be taken away. We don’t want these images to be the last we’ve seen of the magnificent elephants or the regal lion. For some, these animals are just trophies (as evidenced by the unnerving photos Brandt created of various animal heads on poles.) What he’s done is reminded us that if we’re not careful, the things we hold dear might not exist anymore and all we’ll have (grand as it is) is the photographic evidence left behind.

"Across the Ravaged Land"
Hardcover w/jacket. 120 pages, 50 tritone photographs
$65.00
www.abramsbooks.com

by Nick Brandt

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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