Photographer Nick Brandt captures scarily preserved animals of Lake Natron
posted Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 1:27 PM EDT
Photographer Nick Brandt is a man with a history in East Africa, having spent decades directing videos and taking photographs across the region. His newest photobook is titled Across the Ravaged Land, and inside it are not only astonishing images of many animals, but also one of the most macabre and interesting sets of photos that we've ever seen.
Set on the banks of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania, this body of water is shallow and has an extremely high concentration of salt and natron — which means that animals that die in its waters end up being preserved by the mineral content. Brandt discovered these animals, and placed them in positions mimicking how they would have been in life, creating a series of photos that are at once both beautiful and disturbing.
Natron is the same material that was key in preserving Egyptian mummies, and one of the reasons this lake is so hostile to life. Not only does Lake Natron have an incredibly high mineral content, but it's also very hot (up to 140°F). It's not, however, devoid of life. Some fish live near the edges, and there are algae and invertebrates in the water itself. Not only that, but flamingos breed in the lake due it acting as a barrier to predators, and feeding on the algae.
Describing the shoot, Brandt explains:
The notion of portraits of dead animals in the place where they once lived is what also drew me to photographing the creatures in the Calcified series: I unexpectedly found the creatures - all manner of birds and bats - washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. No-one knows for certain exactly how they die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses them, and like birds crashing into plate glass windows, they crash into the lake. The water has an extremely high soda and salt content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds. The soda and salt causes the creatures to calcify, perfectly preserved, as they dry. I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life’, as it were. Reanimated, alive again in death.
On a more technical side of things, Brandt intentionally limited how he shot the images. All of the book was created using a a medium format Pentax 67II with waist level viewﬁnder, and just a 50mm and 100mm equivalent lens, on 6x7 negatives.
If you want to see more photos from the series, you can either pick up the book, or check out an exhibition of his work at the Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, in New York.
All images by Nick Brandt, used with permission.