I rarely cry in public. But the older I get, the easier I tear up over the good things. I used to cry about sad things quite easily when I was younger, but these days… the tears come, usually very unexpected, when something is impressive or beautiful that it simply overwhelms me.
Photographer Nick Brandt‘s photo series “Inherit the Dust” is definitely up there on the list. To put the effect it had on me into some perspective, here are some of the other things that moved me to tears:
Claude Monet‘s Water Lilies in the oval galleries of Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Driving through the Loch Lomond area in Scotland. The wildlife photography competition winning shots at the Natural History Museum in London.
And my unforgettable, powerful-as-an-earthquake encounter with the majestic Icelandic horses at the Goðafoss waterfalls in Iceland.
I discovered Brandt’s work in 2013 or so, while trying to decide which photographer to present to my fellow classmates at photography school. I googled “wildlife photographer” and eventually bumped into his black & white portraits of African animals.
Wham. They were the most beautiful images I’d ever seen.
I’ve always enjoyed taking portrait style photos of my dog, of zoo animals, of squirrels in my backyard. And now someone was doing it a hundred times more impressively with wild animals. Dude, I thought. You’re living my dream.
Fast forward to 2016 when I was in Stockholm for a TBEX blog conference and realized that my idol’s exhibition was up at Fotografiska. Nothing could stop me. I went despite my lousy “going alone” skills. I went, not unlike a steam train in my decisiveness, even though I hated navigating through the city all tired and hungover.
That afternoon, I found myself inside a photography museum looking for a dark corner where I could cry in peace.
Inherit the Dust is a collection of stunning photos with a brilliant, but gut-wrenching concept:
In a series of panoramic photographs, he recorded the impact of man in places where animals used to roam. In each location, he erected a life size panel of one of his animal portrait photographs, setting the panels within a world of urban development, factories, wasteland and quarries.– Wikipedia
I felt heartbroken about the state of the world, the animals in Africa and all the suffering people who were victims of the same evils as the beautiful creatures now disappearing from their lands.
Nothing about this was new to me — I’ve been an animal activist (at least in my own head) since I could walk — but it was the photos and the accompanying short documentary that kicked me in the guts and it kicked me hard.
When I was 6, I announced to my mother that I was going to get all the homeless dogs from America, give them a bath and find good homes for them.
When I was 12, I watched Gorillas in the Mist, cried my eyes out and wanted to leave home immediately to rescue the great apes. I think that was the first time I really understood how some of us humans tragically have no respect for wildlife whatsoever; that not everyone was as enchanted by it as I was.
(That winter, a boy who bullied me at school also came to our house and threw rocks at my dog. I kicked that dude’s ass later and let my dog bark and growl at him all he wanted, while making sure he played nice with the other kids.)
But I digress. This is about Inherit the Dust, not about my whoop-ass revenge on a bully.
I’m not sure why it was only two days ago that I heard about this exhibition coming to Finland. But I did, and I freaked out. I immediately spammed all my friends with the museum link, telling them that I’ll go with anyone who wants to go and don’t care if I have to do it a dozen times.
I was finally going to get to share the experience instead of crying alone in a dark corner. Woop!
I also emailed the National Museum of Finland asking if there was an opening ceremony or something I could attend. Very quickly and kindly, they sent me an invitation to the press event…
and Nick Brandt was going to be there himself.
I immediately spammed the same friends with this knowledge as well. I’m not even sure at this point if they knew who I was talking about. But they’re well adjusted to mine and Satu’s fangirling, so they don’t mind.
The next day I entered the building, almost late as per usual. When the speeches began, I started snapping photos. Snap snap snap. Snappety snap. (That’s what I do, I’m a freakin’ photographer.)
After introductions, Brandt takes the mic. Answers some questions, speaks about his work. Excited, I grab my camera and go snap snap snap. Snap. Snap.
After a while, he looks at me and a few other reporters there and says “..you know, when you notice me pause and lose my train of thought, it’s because I see a camera pointing at me. I simply can’t concentrate, I can’t, if there’s a camera pointing at me.”
“Shit. Sorry!!! So sorry.” I say and quickly drop my camera back into my backpack. This is the first impression I’m making, is it?! GREAT.
After touring the exhibition with our fellow blogger Tanja (who wrote a beautiful blog post about the exhibition in Finnish in her blog), I decided to stay. I was determined to apologize in person for… well, for being a photographer, basically.
I managed to find Brandt hanging out in the exhibition space, free and casual, between the interviews with the Finnish media. We shook hands, I apologized, we chatted about politics, photography, random things. I was a little nervous, but not as much as I thought I’d be. He’s an easy dude to meet. Friendly. Smart.
Before I left, I handed him my business card with the words “just in case you ever need an assistant, anything. I’ll go anywhere, anytime.”
I think it sounded like a joke. It wasn’t.
Aside from giving me huge inspiration as a photographer, wildlife lover and many other things, Inherit the Dust has made me question many of my life choices. There’s a part of me that always wanted to be a wildlife photographer. Always. I think it was the “not good at going alone” part of me that always stopped me.
Seeing the photos as massive prints on the walls of the museum (again) and remembering how they affected me that day in Stockholm, I’m back to questioning those things. My current work. My life that’s so wrapped up in social media and meaningless things. My photography that won’t ever move anyone to tears or inspire them to change a life or the world.
If one photographer can affect this many people emotionally and do so much for wildlife and the environment, what am I waiting for?
What are we all waiting for?
Nick Brandt’s Inherit the Dust exhibition opens this week at the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki. Information, tickets & opening times here. Free entrance on Fridays between 4pm and 6pm.
Do not miss it. Go today, go tomorrow, as long as you go before the end of August.
Oh, and remember when I mentioned Brandt doing so much for wildlife? About that: some years ago, he started a non-profit organization called Big Life which now employs several hundred rangers protecting approximately 2 million acres of ecosystem.
And I’m here worrying about some Instagram posts.