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Nick Brandt – Behind the Photo: UNDERPASS WITH ELEPHANTS, 2015 (Lean Back, Your Life is On Track)


photo-eye Gallery Nick Brandt - Behind the Photo: UNDERPASS WITH ELEPHANTS, 2015 (Lean Back, Your Life is On Track) In this Behind the Photo segment, Nick Brandt describes his intentions while creating Underpass with Elephants, 2015 (Lean Back, Your Life is On Track), one of the most compelling images from his latest series Inherit the Dust.
In this Behind the Photo segment, Nick Brandt describes his intentions behind Underpass with Elephants, 2015 (Lean Back, Your Life is On Track), perhaps the most compelling image from his latest series Inherit the Dust. In his own words, Brandt expands on the transformative power of context and the loss of mankind's connection to nature. Inherit the Dust is currently on view at photo-eye Gallery through July 23rd, 2016.

Underpass with Elephants, 2015 (Lean Back, Your Life is On Track) – © Nick Brandt

"I took the photo of an elephant mother and her calves a few years ago, but didn’t think it special enough to release. But when revisiting it for Inherit the Dust, I realised how much more emotional and impactful it could be in its new incarnation. Placing the photo as a life-size panel in this setting, the elephants look trapped between the monumental concrete pillars, uncertain of where to turn. The elephants also appear to be, for me at least, connected to the humans to the right of them.

When I chose this location, I never expected that these people would also be part of the photograph. They are all homeless, even the mothers with very young children and babies, who sleep beneath this underpass encircled by a central Nairobi roundabout.

It’s hard to see clearly from this tiny image online, but most of those boys, some as young as 6 or 7 years old, were high on glue from the bottles hanging from their faces.

The poisoned icing on the cake in relation to the homeless people is the cruelly juxtaposed billboard beyond, featuring a well-to-do middle class African man leaning back in a chair in his garden, with the tag line beneath: Lean Back, Your Life is On Track.

My plan had always been that, throughout the series, the animals in the panels would effectively be ghosts in the landscape. With these animals killed or driven from their habitat, the people now living within these landscapes would be oblivious to the presence of the animals that used to live there.

However, in the final photo of the series, I wanted just one person, a child, to see the animals in the panel whilst all around, no-one else did.

But I never for a second imagined that this tiny boy on the right would wander into frame, fascinated by these giant elephants, and touch them with what appears to be a stick held in his hand.

I would like to think that the babies being the only ones to see the panels avoids the dangerous trap of easy sentimentality. My reason for it being babies is this — I think we are all born with an instinctual connection to nature, and as we grow up, many of us lose that connection, influenced, seduced and distracted by societal pressure, teen pressure, etc. Hopefully most of us will find our way back, but many will not.

Technical:

Shot on medium format black and white film with a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, the final panoramic image is constructed of several negatives to capture the wide field of vision, which were pieced together in Photoshop."—Nick Brandt

Inherit the Dust is currently on view at photo-eye Gallery through Saturday July, 23. For more information and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly at (505) 988-5152 x 121 or anne@photoeye.com.



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