A Flooding World

A Flooding World

Nick Brandt (b. 1964) is a British photographer known for recording the world’s rapidly disappearing green spaces. His images show how human environmental destruction has led to the climate crisis. The Day May Break is a series which spans Bolivia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and now Fiji. It portrays animals and people affected by unfolding ecological disasters as well as humanity’s destructive impact on the natural world. The third chapter of the series, Sink / Rise, is now on display at Newlands House, Sussex, and serves as a stark reminder of the looming reality of many island nations. Images shot underwater, off the coast of the South Pacific Islands, represent inhabitants whose homes, lands and livelihoods may be lost in the coming decades as sea levels increase. Here, we talk to Brandt about his process in creating the work.

A: This is an incredibly original body of work that showcases the impact of rising oceans. Where did the idea first emerge from to take the photographs underwater?

NB: The origin of a concept is always a good but difficult question to answer. My ideas typically emerge from a current concern of mine. It just felt time to address rising sea levels and I love being underwater diving, and so somewhere in some way, this concept formulated.

A: In terms of technical production – can you talk us through how you captured these images?

NB: The main issue that took months of testing was keeping people and furniture weighted down, and in such a way that everyone looked natural. Surges of ocean current took us by surprise. Let’s just say we bought out every diving and gym weight on the island we were shooting on. The cast all live by the ocean so even the kids can free dive to some degree. But they had to do a basic Scuba dive course to be able to use regulators, and hand them off to safety divers before holding their breath, and calmly receive them back when they needed more air. I’m so impressed with how natural they all look in the photos, but we did “audition” something like 200 locals to find those that were comfortable and relaxed enough.

A: In some scenes subjects stand on chairs, whilst in others they pose on seesaws or rest on beds. Could you talk about the use of banality and the ordinary in these pieces?

NB: Yes. It’s very deliberate. Just that people are trying to live normal lives, while this (pre-) apocalyptic situation is heading their way. Even the seesaw that we built produces a sense of the lost joy of childhood.

A: Sink / Rise marks the third chapter of The Day Mark Break, a series that focuses on South Pacific Islanders. Could you talk a little about the first two iterations of the work?

NB: The Day May Break is an ongoing global series that portrays people and animals that have been impacted by environmental degradation and destruction. Chapter One was photographed in Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2020 and Chapter Two in Bolivia in 2022. The people in the photos have all been badly affected by climate change, ranging from extreme droughts to floods that destroyed their homes and livelihoods. The photographs were taken at several sanctuaries and conservancies. The animals are almost all long-term rescues, victims of everything from habitat destruction to wildlife trafficking. These creatures can never be released back into the wild. As a result, they are almost all habituated to humans, and so it was safe for human strangers to be close to them, photographed in the same frame at the same time. The fog I used is symbolic of a natural world now rapidly fading from view. Created by fog machines on location, it is also an echo of the smoke from wildfires, intensified by climate change that devastate so much of the planet. However, in spite of their loss, these people and animals are the survivors, and therein lies hope.

A: Who – or what – are your biggest inspirations?

Music actually tends to be my biggest inspiration. It’s my favourite of all the art forms. Much music by Max Richter, the contemporary classical composer, is playing when conceiving, casting, shooting and editing. He produces an uncanny mixture of hope and melancholy.

A: How do you want viewers to feel after viewing the exhibition? What do you want them to take away?

Well, I take photographs to make prints. For me, the only real way to view my work is in the form it is at Newlands House Gallery – the full range of prints in the size that they are meant to be seen, curated and hung beautifully. Only then does the work stand a chance of having the kind of impact on people that I hope it would. Funnily enough, I received this email yesterday from a local photographer, Allan Grainger, who was at my talk at the gallery and viewed the exhibition. Everyone will have a different response to the work of course. This is an excerpt from his response:

“Words initially failed, as I stood transfixed in front of a work by Nick Brandt of an elderly Kenyan couple, Ali and Fatuma; the man lying on wasted earth with his wife seated close behind him, and just behind them a huge elephant, Bupa, stands in a background of mist. The picture is doing what pictures should, drawing you in, captivating you. Delighted to have found this picture I soon became disturbed to realise that this scene of serene beauty was a portent of the horrors to come, a devastation, that was already felt by those in the picture. As I went through the exhibition at Newlands House I had the same response to all the pictures. The emotional impact from them swelled in me, and this elegiac work left me reflecting on how I, and millions, will be sitting in the dust as a result of the abuse we have brought to our worlds.”

So something like the above is what I would hope people would take away from the exhibition!

A: What are you working on next?

I just completed a six week shoot in Jordan for Chapter Four of The Day May Break series. Jordan is regarded as the second most water-scarce country on the planet, and so I focused on those whose lives are impacted by climate change there. Again, it is very different to the previous chapters. That body of work will hopefully be released in September.

SINK / RISE: Chapter III | Until 29 May


Words: Nick Brandt and Chloe Elliott.

Image Credits:

1. Petero by Cliff, Fiji, 2023 by Nick Brandt ©

2. Onnie by Cliff, Fiji, 2023 by Nick Brandt ©

3. Ben and his Father Viti, Fiji, 2023 by Nick Brandt ©

4. Onnie and Keanan on Seesaw, Fiji, 2023 by Nick Brandt ©

5. Akessa and Maria on Sofa, Fiji, 2023 by Nick Brandt ©

6. Akessa Looking Down II Fiji, 2023 by Nick Brandt ©