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Nick Brandt Goes Underwater to Document An Uncertain Future
Serafina at Table
Friday, July 5, 2024


English Photographer Nick Brandt’s latest exhibition is underwater.


His SINK/RISE, currently being shown at Gilman Contemporary in Ketchum, features photographs of residents of the Fijian Islands whose homes, land and livelihoods will be lost in the future as ocean water rises.

“Joel and Petero on Seesaw”

To portray this, Brandt spent six weeks taking photographs of the residents underwater sitting in chairs, at tables, on beds, on a sofa and even on a seesaw as they would if they were above water. In doing so, he captured their resignation and their resolve.

“It’s very thought provoking, very compelling,” said Gallery Owner L’Anne Gilman. They’re thinking: This is our future. But Nick calls it SINK/RISE, indicating we can sink into despair or rise into hope. He has hope that we can do something to prevent this.”

The exhibition—the U.S. debut of SINK/RISE-- will be featured as part of Gallery Walk from 5 to 7 tonight—Friday, July 5. In addition, Brandt will discuss his photographic series with Gilman at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11, at Ketchum’s Community Library. People can attend in person, following it up with a reception at the gallery afterwards, by making an RSVP at https://thecommunitylibrary.libcal.com/event/12059072.

The program will also be livestreamed and available to watch later.

SINK/RISE is the third chapter in Brandt’s ongoing series “The Day May Break,” which portrays those impacted by environmental destruction and climate change. He became interested in the plight of animals, humans and the environment while photographing wild animals in Africa where he saw how climate change and the impact of man was affecting the animals.

He wanted to do his first series in at a sanctuary in California. But, when they were not interested, he turned to Kenya and Zimbabwe. In addition to taking photographs, he told the stories of inhabitants there. One woman who lived near Victoria Falls, for instance, told how years of harsh drought had destroyed the beautiful paradise of her youth, forcing her and other villagers to walk further and further to find water and forcing animals into areas of human habitation, coming into conflict with the farmers.

Brandt pursued the second chapter in Bolivia where he recounted stories of people who saw their homes break in half and collapse in landslides triggered by rainfall that was heavier than anyone could remember.

Brandt photographed the subjects in SINK/RISE several meters below the surface with a crew that held oxygen tanks for subjects, pulling away for 15 seconds to a minute so Brandt could get his shots without the tanks in the photos. The subjects and their props are weighted down to keep them from floating around in the ocean.

His photographs are accompanied by haunting meditations on the devastation wrought by rising sea levels in his new coffee table book “Sink/Rise, The Day May Break.”

His exhibitions have been shown around the world from Seoul, South Korea, to Istanbul, Turkey, always asking the questions: Can we be good ancestors? Can we show that we care about the humans and animals and trees that we will never live to see?

“We are in this uncertain period…right now we don’t know if the Earth as we know it, or if we, will survive humanity’s ongoing destruction of the natural world,” he wrote as he cautioned that in destroying nature man will ultimately destroy himself. “Now, with so vastly many more of us, it’s not ‘just’ a region that is destroyed. If little changes, this time in the 21st century, the collapse will be global.”

Gilman has worked with Brandt since she opened the gallery in 2007, starting with his animal portraits. In addition to admiring his photographs, she has been impressed with his Big Life Foundation, which he started to protect elephants from poachers in the Amboseli/Tsavo/Kilimanjaro ecosystem straddling Kenya and Tanzania.

“The art and activism he does is so beautiful,” she said.

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