Patrick and Flamingos, Zimbabwe, 2020. Patrick has been a fisherman in Zimbabwe for five years, but the declining water levels in Lake Chivero are making it difficult for him to continue fishing. The daily fish catches have dramatically declined. Patrick is also a farmer, but like many others, the ongoing drought has affected his crops. The greater and lesser flamingoes at Kuimba Shiri have been rescued over the years for various reasons. The flamingo numbers are declining as breeding sites for them diminish. (Nick Brandt)

Miriam's house was destroyed in 2017 by floods in Kenya, and she lost everything. She wasn't there because she was visiting a relative, and her husband blamed her for the loss, leaving her and her daughters with nothing. Najin is one of the last two northern white rhinos. (Nick Brandt)

As catastrophic wildfires, deadly flooding, record-breaking heat domes and drought inundate our world here and abroad, it is not hard to see why British photographer Nick Brandt is inspired to tell the stories of the people and animals most affected by the deteriorating conditions of our planet.

Brandt’s new book, “The Day May Break” (Hatje Cantz, 2021) is timely, publishing shortly after a landmark United Nations report stated that there was no doubt humans were affecting climate change, calling the findings “a code red for humanity.”

Brandt has documented the environmental degradation of Africa since 2001 and has produced several series of books and exhibits showing this, such as “Inherit the Dust” and “This Empty World.” As extreme weather patterns and events have continued to escalate around the world, it became clear to Brandt that he needed to photograph the animals and the people affected by them.

Brandt’s hauntingly beautiful, almost surreal portraits of people and animals made in Kenya and Zimbabwe suggest just how intertwined their struggle for survival is.

Brandt told In sight, “The fog in the photos is symbolic of the natural world that we once knew rapidly disappearing from view. The animals and humans are photographed together in this fog, in the same frame, because simply, we are all denizens of the same home: our actually very small planet.”

In the photos Brandt captures on his medium-format digital camera, the subjects seem to bear similar expressions and emotions; even their postures are sometimes the same.

Brandt describes just how this all came about in “The Day May Break”:

“I tried to direct the people as little as possible, to allow them to find a way of being comfortable in their own way. Some of the most affecting expressions and postures were just how they chose to present themselves, from the moment they sat down.”

The animals Brandt photographed were all rescued from five sanctuaries or conservancies, each one having suffered their own harrowing journey. They have been affected by declining habitats, poaching and poisoning and will never be released back into the wild.

Being from sanctuaries, the animals were well cared for and acclimated to humans, which allowed Brandt to photograph them so close to people. He wasn’t able to photograph some of the more dangerous animals, like lions. No harm came to the animals during the photo sessions — they weren’t even bothered by the water-based fog used in the photos because it was at a safe distance from them.

The people Brandt photographed rely heavily on natural resources that are rapidly dwindling. Many of them are, or were, farmers who have had to abandon their land because of years of severe drought. Several were displaced by cyclones that destroyed their homes, and some, like Robert, lost children during flooding.

As Brandt says in “The Day May Break”: “The grim irony is that these people are among those who have small environmental impact on the planet and yet they are the most vulnerable to suffer the consequences of industrial war of the industrial world’s ways.”

Brandt’s biggest challenge making the photographs in the book turned out to be the weather and not the people or the animals. He told In Sight it was supposed to be the rainy season during the sessions, but instead, he faced weeks of extremely hot and dry winds that quickly evaporated the fog. To create the mood he wanted, Brandt made the photographs during a 30-minute window before and after sunset.

Brandt wanted this project to be carbon neutral, so he calculated the mileage of flights, transporting equipment, the fuel used from vehicles, generators, etc., and then made the equivalent carbon-offset payment.

On top of that, Brandt is donating a percentage of the proceeds from print sales to the people photographed and to the nonprofits that care for the animals.

Of the people and animals in “The Day May Break,” Brandt said, “In spite of their loss, they are survivors. And … in this survival through such extreme hardships — there lies possibility and hope.”

As for what Brandt hopes people take away from “The Day May Break,” he left In Sight with this thought: “I always worry that I am preaching to the converted with the work. That if you’re looking at it, you likely already think similarly to me. So, I try and think of what I do as being a cog in an (maddeningly slow) incremental wheel of change, part of a growing dialogue, building to a chorus and then hopefully a scream heard around the planet, that we can no longer continue to sleepwalk our way to oblivion.”

This work is the first part of a global series for Brandt. He will continue to document people and animals in other countries who have been affected by climate change. Accompanying exhibitions will open at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles on September 9, 2021 and at the Edwynn Houk Gallery [houkgallery.com] in New York on January 20, 2022.


Patrick has been a fisherman in Zimbabwe for five years, but the declining water levels in Lake Chivero are making it difficult for him to continue. He is also a farmer, but like many others, drought has hurt his crops. Harriet, a giant eagle owl, has lived at the Kuimba Shiri sanctuary for 35 years, rescued when she was a chick from deforestation. (Nick Brandt)

Ali and Fatima originally lived as nomads with their livestock in northeastern Kenya, but in 2010, extended severe droughts killed their goats and cows. They were forced to move and aren't able to return home. Bupa, the elephant, was 9 when he was rescued by the owner of Ol Jogi Conservancy in 1989 from a mass cull in Zimbabwe. (Nick Brandt)

Helen has a small plot of land where she tries to farm maize, but because of the lack of rainfall and dried-up wells, her crops have repeatedly died. Rescued by a sanctuary, Sky, a southern African giraffe, is 4 years old and came from a farm south of Harare, Zimbabwe, where the wildlife were nearly all killed by settlers, leaving just two giraffes. (Nick Brandt)

Jack and Regina's only source of food is a small plot for growing vegetables. In recent years, their crops have failed, and with the worsening drought, most of the local rivers and wells have dried up. Cheetahs Diesel and Levi came to the Wild Is Life sanctuary when they were about 6 weeks old after their mother was killed by a farmer protecting his livestock. (Nick Brandt)

Richard lives with his wife and children in eastern Zimbabwe, where he has turned to farming tobacco after droughts from 2010 on made growing maize and raising cattle nearly impossible. He says the reduction in rainfall has been caused not just by climate change, but also by the clearing of forests for the production and curing of tobacco. Okra, a crowned eagle, comes from the forest near the bird sanctuary Kuimba Shiri, which has been monitoring the nest site for more than 30 years as forests continue to decline. (Nick Brandt)

Githui remembers when the climate in central Kenya wasn't this dry, but severe droughts forced him to abandon his farmland. With the death of his children, he moved to Nanyuki, taking jobs as a laborer at first. Now he walks with difficulty and cannot find employment. Kimanjo, the zebra, was found abandoned at less than 1 month old, near a community by that name. It's likely her mother was killed for meat. (Nick Brandt)

Silva was a farmer in southeastern Zimbabwe, but the rains have become so unpredictable and severe and droughts so frequent that he moved to Lake Chivero to start farming and fishing. Water levels there have become so low, however, that fishing is no longer a realistic option. Kuimba Shiri Bird Sanctuary has a number of rescued wood owls, some saved as chicks after trees were cut down, others rescued after eating prey that ate rat poison. (Nick Brandt)

Teresa and her husband, Samuel, used to live and farm in the central highlands of Kenya, but in 2016, after three months of constant rain, landslides destroyed their house and killed their livestock. They were forced to move to Nanyuki, where they've been hustling to find menial jobs. “I don’t even like to remember where we lived before. It’s too upsetting.” Najin is one of the last two northern white rhinos in the world. When her daughter, Fatu, dies, the species will be extinct. (Nick Brandt)

Halima and her husband lived in northeastern Kenya, where they raised livestock, but the wells dried up, and their cows, goats and camels died. Halima’s husband left her, so she and her children had to move south to Nanyuki. In 2018, Frida, a greater kudu, was found at the entrance gate of the Ol Jogi Conservancy, which suspects her mother was killed by hunters. (Nick Brandt)

Floods destroyed Alice and Stanley’s house in central Kenya in 2017. With little money to start a new life, they moved to Nanyuki and looked for a small house. Stanley now works as an electrician, and Alice does laundry. (Nick Brandt)

Najin the white rhino. (Nick Brandt)

Photographer Nick Brandt on set in Zimbabwe in 2020. (Nick Brandt)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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