Flesh to Stone

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Words by Billie Jenkins Image copyright of Nick Brandt and published courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery

These photographs from Nick Brandt’s series on the disappearing animals of Eastern Africa, Across the Ravaged Land, document the incredible phenomenon of flesh turned to stone, living form frozen forever in time. Appearing almost as dramatic, gothic scenes (not an aesthetic I usually have much time for), what makes these images truly astonishing is that they are real creatures calcified by the harsh environment of Tanzania’s Lake Natron. The process takes place as the lake has naturally evolved to combine extreme temperatures with an obscene presence of alkaline, so much so it is almost on par with ammonia.

Myths of the living turned to stone are found everywhere, from Medusa to Narnia, yet here life is stranger than fiction, with details of the animals bodies being picked out with grotesque intricacy. Stumbling across the strange place, Brandt told New Scientist magazine “I could not help but photograph them. No one knows for certain exactly how they die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses them, and like birds crashing into plate glass windows, they crash into the lake.” After they make contact with the water they die, and their bodies slowly become immortalised in stone. Aside from a few fish, who have evolved to face the elements, a meeting with the lake almost always seals the fate of its visitor. Those pictured were found by Brandt on the shorelines of the lake.

Nick’s website, which includes images from Across the Ravaged Land, can be found here.

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