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David Burdeny

Before Ever After: Photographs from Kenya and Tanzania

September 2019

Before Ever After: Photographs from Kenya and Tanzania

Mass extinctions, which periodically wipe out up to 95 percent of species occur every 50-100 million years.  In the last 40 years nearly 50 percent of wildlife around the world has disappeared.  Just this last year, the earth lost its last White Rhino to old age. It species survived insurmountable challenges for thousands of years, but in the end it was unable to survive us.  If the science is correct, we are currently in the middle of the sixth such extinction because we left no safe space for millions of species to sustainably coexist.

With the planet at a crossroads, I returned to Africa to catch a glimpse into one of the earths last wild places, a tiny area of prehistory that still connects us to a time before modern man took over.  

As a landscape photographer I search out extraordinary aspects of a place, open myself up to the reality of a scene and translate that into an image. In many ways I’m a guide – sharing those experiences so people know these places exist and are important. The beauty I found here was almost indescribable – visceral, fluid and raw. It stops you dead in your tracks and humbles you. But knowing this could all be gone in ones own lifetime was heart-breaking. My hope is these images will serve to build bridges of empathy to these sensitive landscapes and ecosystems. We need these wild places as much as the animals who call it home do, for wilderness is the fabric of our universe.  We are a biological creature as they are, breathing the same air, drinking the same water and walking on the same earth. We are not separate from the landscape – as they are not – and so to save these places is also about saving us. In March 2018 it was reported that the last male northern white rhino had died, effectively ending the possibility that the species could carry on without scientific intervention. The news was unique in its message of finality: extinction was unfolding right before our eyes. For Burdeny, the alarm sounded by such a loss, which was all-too-real, and yet symbolic of a much greater urgency, prompted his return to East Africa. His project Before Ever After was less one about documenting the dwindling species than it was an effort re-present them in a distinctly contemporary way, as a reminder that such animals are not mythical beats, but earthly proprietors whose human tenants are both their greatest danger and only hope. In the series, which comprises images taken in Tanzania and Kenya, Burdeny uses the African plane as a geographical equalizer, and not just between non-human species: lions rest in a sliver of shade, giraffes stand in formation as though posing for a family portrait, two elephants—a mother and her calf—walk across the frame. Here, Burdeny forsakes novelty for personhood, arguing that animals are beings as deserving of the protections we expect ourselves”

David Burdeny


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