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Entertainment & Arts

To convey the real threat to wildlife, photographer Nick Brandt built fake human habitats in Africa

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“Garage With Blind Rhino” is one of Nick Brandt’s pieces in “This Empty World,” a project where he created composite images of wild African animals and, in the exact location, man-made sets that represented human intrusion into the habitat.
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)

“This Empty World” is British photographer Nick Brandt’s latest series of pictures confronting the destruction of a fragile ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa. For the first time, Brandt is using color to tell the story of an animal population that’s dwindling because of poaching and human population explosion.

“What I really want to express is how the rural poor living there are frequently the victims and not the aggressors,” Brandt said. “More humans means more homes, factories and roads. They are swept up in the relentless tide of progress.”

Photographing on Maasai land in Kenya, Brandt placed a digital medium-format camera near where animals frequently pass. Once wildlife entered the frame, a motion sensor set off the lights. A tripwire fired the camera and flash.

After animals were captured on camera, full sets depicting human life — a bridge, highway construction, a gas and bus station — were built at the same location. With the camera fixed in place, Brandt photographed a second sequence with a large cast of people drawn from local communities. The final large-scale prints are a composite, the neon glow of urban lights illuminating wild animals and humans as equal victims of their shared environment.

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In one image, a lion, no longer looking like the king of the jungle, shares a solemn expression with hundreds of humans scattered about in what could be a grim battlefield. Another scene shows a female elephant protecting her two babies while a human family of five looks similarly concerned about what the future holds.

“This Empty World” will be at Fahey/Klein Gallery in L.A. from Feb. 28 to April 27. A large-format book featuring 70 of Brandt’s photo illustrations (“All sets were removed and recycled with zero waste,” the photographer added) is out this month from Thames & Hudson.

“Riverbed With Hyenas”
"Riverbed With Hyenas"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“Garage With Blind Rhino”
"Garage With Blind Rhino"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)

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“Bus Station With Elephant and Red Bus”
"Bus Station With Elephant and Red Bus"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“Construction Trench With Jackal”
"Construction Trench With Jackal"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“Highway Bank Construction With Baby Zebra(The Coffin)”
"Highway Bank Construction With Baby Zebra(The Coffin)"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“Highway Bank Construction With Giraffe and Workers”
"Highway Bank Construction With Giraffe and Workers"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“Bus Station with Lioness”
"Bus Station with Lioness"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“Roundabout With Gazelle”
"Roundabout With Gazelle"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“The Gathering”
"The Gathering"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
“Charcoal Burning With Zebras”
"Charcoal Burning With Zebras"
(Nick Brandt / Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles)
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