But people also need to understand harsh realities, and photos help get urgent messages across. “The world’s moving at such a fast pace now that we need potent photography to stop us in our tracks,” says Jamie Joseph, founder of Saving The Wild, who work to dismantle rhino-poaching syndicates. “I’m a writer and a wildlife activist. If I really want to be heard online, I lead with an emotive image… Visual storytelling is the difference between being heard or being forgotten.”
A bleak picture
More than a million species of animals, insects and plants are at risk of extinction, many in the next few decades, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The urgency of the wildlife crisis is driving darker photographic work, like Brandt’s, as well as the reporting of Britta Jaschinski, co-founder of Photographers Against Wildlife Crime, whose disturbing black and white images show elephant’s feet ‘ornaments’ and tigers and orangutans performing in circuses, or conservation photographer Paul Hilton’s work on pressing issues, from the shark-fin trade to palm-oil destruction.
Stirton’s photos from the frontline include a butchered, dehorned rhino carcass in South Africa, which won the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, and a gorilla killed by paramilitaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I’m very influenced by James Nachtwey, who I regard as the godfather of photojournalism,” Stirton explains. “He manages to take horrific scenes and photograph them in a compositionally masterful way. I’m always looking to make images that have both an aesthetic quality and a quality that’s going to move you.”
Stirton’s Pangolins in Crisis series brings a focus to lesser-known animals. “Smaller species have been disappearing at an incredible rate,” he says, “because we’re not paying much attention to them and because a lot of people haven’t actually heard of them.”