In a series of photographic panoramas shot in East Africa, photographer Nick Brandt records the impact of men in places where animals used to roam, but no longer do. Pollution and urban encroachment is the cause of ever decreasing habitat for the natural world and loss of biodiversity.
But loss of habitat is not the only threat to wildlife.
Consumption of wildlife as deluxe delicacies, grounded into medicines or carved into luxury objects have pushed many species such as rhinos and pangolins to the brink of extinction. Since 1970, populations of thousands of animal species around the world have declined 60 percent on average, according to the World Wildlife Fund.1 Scientists warn that Earth’s sixth mass extinction may be underway, and man may only have 10 years to take drastic steps and protect planet’s vital plant and animal life. “Very few ecosystems are not affected by wildlife trade,” said Vincent Nijman, an anthropologist at Oxford Brookes University in Britain. “It directly impacts a very large number of species, and has a knock-on effect on many more species still.”2 –3
And it’s not just animals that are affected, wildlife trade comes at a huge cost to humanity too. Currently wildlife trade is the cause of a major global health scare. The most novel strain of corona virus seems to have originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan. Over 1500 people died already (as recorded by 15 Feb 2020). The Chinese government ordered a ban on the trade of wild animals but only temporary until the epidemic is over. Activists, scientists and conservationists are pushing for a permanent ban.
A scientific report titled ’Wildlife Trade and Global Disease Emergence’ published by by Wildlife Conservation Society in 2005 states: “Since 1980, about 35 new infectious zoonotic diseases have emerged in humans, about 1 every 8 months. The origin of HIV is likely linked to human consumption of nonhuman primates. Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreaks in humans have been traced to index patient contact with infected great apes that are hunted for food. SARS-associated coronavirus has been associated with the international trade in small animals.”
The outbreak of SARS should have been a clear warning sign. Unfortunately it wasn’t.
“Outbreaks resulting from wildlife trade have caused hundreds of billions of dollars of economic damage globally. Rather than attempting to eradicate pathogens or the wild species that may harbor them, a practical approach would include decreasing the contact rate among species, including humans, at the interface created by the wildlife trade. Focusing efforts at markets to regulate, reduce, or in some cases, eliminate the trade in wildlife could provide a cost-effective approach to decrease the risks for disease for humans, domestic animals, wildlife, and ecosystems.”4
According to the WWF, wildlife crime has become more lucrative and dangerous, involving large-scale, transnational organized criminal networks. It is now the 4th most profitable illicit trade in the world, estimated at up to US$19 billion each year. Hong Kong until this day remains the biggest hub. The problem persists due to lack of investigation and law enforcement. As per the New York Times (Feb. 2019): ‘While other countries with the political and law-enforcement capacity to fight wildlife trafficking have begun to do so, the territory’s government — which is otherwise relatively aggressive in combating corruption, organized crime and other ills — has appeared reluctant to follow suit, even as an enormous share of the illegal trade passes through the territory’s airport and shipping terminals. 5
Humanity can not survive without the rich biodiversity which took the planet millions of years to create; together they prosper and together they will fall. The world can not allow a minority of exotic food lovers to be the cause of extinction of species, the loss of biodiversity and cause major global health emergencies.
Confucius once said: ‘You end up where you are going if you don’t change direction.’ If we don’t change direction, our future generation will be inheriting dust.
INHERIT THE DUST
“If you take photographs, make the photographs useful.” Ansel Adams once said. Nick Brandt wanted to do exactly that after seeing the ongoing destruction while collaborating on a music video for Michael Jackson, ‘Earth Song’, in Tanzania in 1995.
No effort was spared by Nick Brandt to express the dire state of our environment in relation to its beautiful wildlife. The making of ‘Inherit the dust’ started in 2014 and took over a year to complete. The series consists of unreleased portraits of animals, taken over prior years, printed life-size and glued to large panels. These panels were then placed in within a world of explosive urban development, locations where animals such as these used to roam but, as a result of human impact, no longer do. 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.
As per Kathryn Bigelow, Film Director, The Hurt Locker:
‘The wasted lands in Inherit The Dust were once golden savannah, sprinkled with acacia trees, where elephants, big cats and rhinos roamed. These now dystopian landscapes – as Nick Brandt’s unvarnished, harrowing but stunning work reveals – brings us face to face with a crisis, both social and environmental, demanding the renewal of humanity itself.’
Nick Brandt shot everything on film. Every large scale panorama consists of a series of analog medium format of 6 x 7 cm negatives, scanned and stitched together with editing programs.
The exhibition marks a debut for Nick Brandt in Hong Kong.
1 Guardian, Oct 2018: ‘Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds’ https:// www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity-wiped-out-animals-since-1970-major-report-finds
2 New York Times Nov 10, 2018
‘The Key to Stopping the Illegal Wildlife Trade: China’ ‘https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/science/wildlife- trafficking-china.html
3 SCMP, Jan 2020: ‘We have only a decade to save Earth’s biodiversity: that’s why all of us should care’ https:// multimedia.scmp.com/native/infographics/article/3048041/preserving-life-on-earth/
5 New York Times, 12th February 2019: ‘Hong Kong, Crossroads of the Criminal Wildlife Trade’
Nick Brandt : Inherit The Dust
13 March – 22 April 2020
Blue Lotus Gallery
28 Pound Lane