Inherit the Dust: Dubai photo exhibit is haunting, sad & stunning

Photographer Nick Brandt’s use of wild animals in desolate urban jungles both damns and pities mankind.

Neil Churchill January 11, 2017

Quite often with the arts it can be as much about the location and environment of the displayed work as it is about the piece itself. A perfect example is Nick Brandt and his current exhibition in Dubai, Inherit the Dust.

For his last three projects the British photographer focused on East Africa and its wild animals. Shooting them in black and white he emphasised their disappearing habitats, fragile ecosystem and increasing urbanisation of the continent’s natural parks.

But for his latest exhibit he placed similar shots in desolate urban areas, coupling the animals and their vanishing lands with places where they used to roam centuries before, that consequently are now destroyed by man. The double impact of both disappearing natural landscapes and neglected urban developments reinforces the impact humans have had on earth, and what little hope Africa’s animals  and humans – have. 

The works are no small feat. The striking shots are previously unreleased life-sized images. Each panorama was constructed out of 6x7cm negatives that were then digitally stitched together. As Brandt says, “Practically speaking, to shoot this series on film instead of digital, was even more crazily impractical than usual.” 

What made things even trickier was some of the locations Brandt chose, including factories, underpasses and quarries. The giant panels, made from aluminum frames, measured 30ft long and required up to 23 men to carry them.

Brandt admits it would have been far easier to have done the whole thing on Photoshop. “But shooting reality, in situ, with the physical life-size panels present, was always going to produce far superior results, due to the countless unexpected incidents that occur throughout any shoot.” 

The results evidently support Brandt's decision. With their monochrome style, the photographs capture some of the world’s most majestic animals in the midst of despair and destruction, as humans wander by, distracted by their own desolation. 

The result is a haunting look at some of Africa’s most endangered species on a backdrop of man’s self-destruction of his own habitat. Through Brandt's skill as a photographer the images are as stunning as they are scary, and are a damning view on mankind. 

“In all but a few of the final photographs, the animals within the panels are effectively invisible to the people going about their lives. The animals have been reduced to ghosts in these blasted landscapes,” Brandt says.

“Animals who are the victims of environmental devastation, but also the humans now inhabiting these landscapes. The damnation of animal life, the debasement of human life, the destructive conjugality between the two: It is not just the animals who are the victims of environmental devastation, but also the humans now inhabiting these landscapes.

“It’s a cliché, but we must act urgently. If we continue to do nothing, future generations will be inheriting the sad remnants of a once-vibrant living planet. They will be inheriting dust.” 

Custot Gallery Dubai, Al Quoz. 8 December 2016 – 28 February 2017. custotgallerydubai.ae 

Photo credit: Nick Brandt. Courtesy of Custot Gallery Dubai.