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Jo-Anne McArthur: Nick Brandt on photography and creating change for animals

This photo I saw in NatGeo when I was a kid. It was a close-up of the eye of a dead zebra, and in the reflection of their eye you see clearly men standing over the animal, holding guns. I’m sure it was more formative for me than I ever realized.

JO-ANNE MCARTHUR: To mark World Photography Day on August 19, We Animals Media Founder Jo-Anne McArthur sat down with world-renowned photographer Nick Brandt for a conversation on spellbinding images, bearing witness to animal suffering, speciesism, the emerging genre of animal photojournalism (APJ), and creating change in a desperate world.

Born and raised in London, Nick Brandt originally studied Painting and Film and now lives in the southern Californian mountains. Brandt has had multiple solo exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide, and in 2010 he co-founded Big Life Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting 1.6 million acres of ecosystem in East Africa. The themes of Nick’s photographic works relate to the destructive impact that humankind is having on both the natural world and now humans themselves also…

JM: Your massive new body of work, The Day May Break (2021) is the first part of a global series portraying people and animals impacted by environmental destruction. I have the book and am mesmerized by the images and their execution. The project is being exhibited globally. The photos are insane, and I know you get all the usual assumptions about them being Photoshopped…

NB: the people and animals were photographed together in the same frame. This was possible because the photos were taken at sanctuaries where the animals are almost all long-term rescues, victims of everything from the poaching of their parents, to habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking. So these animals can never be released back into the wild. As a result, they are habituated, and so it was safe for human strangers to be close to them. It was also possible because the animal carers had such a good trusting relationship with all of the animals…

JM: If you could issue an invitation to other photographers to take up animal photojournalism, or photographing animals, what would you say?

NB: It is so easy to get sidetracked in your life, and be dissatisfied with what you’re doing without perhaps even realizing (I was one of those people). But then when you do hopefully realize that you can use your talents towards something you consider much more important, that can be a liberating epiphany.

As I have said hundreds of times, it is better to be angry and active than angry and passive. Doing something you believe in, that you think can perhaps make a difference, this can help push away the unhealthy sense of despair and helplessness, and instead galvanize and focus you, and give you energy…

JM: We see ourselves as so removed from the environment that we see animals (those who are not humans!) as something very separate. They aren’t separate. We all affect one another. Animal stories are humanitarian stories are environmental stories are climate stories.

NB: Exactly.

JM: And the animals of the world are incredibly fascinating! Their travails, their abilities, their ways, which are like ours but so wonderfully exceeding of ours. We need to see them, experience them, learn from them, and it needn’t be face-to-face, and can’t always be, but it can be through images. So we need to get out there and take those images, even if it takes an emotional toll on us to do so. It is simply worth it, for both societal and personal rewards.

I’m recalling this photo I saw in Nat Geo when I was a kid. It was a close-up of the eye of a dead zebra, and in the reflection of their eye you see clearly men standing over the animal, holding guns. I tore it out of the magazine and it was pinned up on my wall for years. I’m sure it was more formative for me than I ever realized! Get out and take those photos. Tell those stories. You never know who they will reach and how it will change them. SOURCE…


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