For those of you who haven’t yet seen Nick Brandt’s viral photographs of ‘frozen’ birds, they are at once haunting and beautiful. The ‘mummified’ birds (and bats) were found on the shores of Tanzania’s Lake Natron, their bodies perfectly preserved. For his photography, Brandt then arranged them into life-like poses.
The reason for the degree of preservation is Lake Natron’s unusual chemical composition; the water has a very high pH, in the range of 9 to 10.5, making it almost as basic as ammonia. This is caused largely by the accumulation of salts from mineral hot springs and rainwater runoff from a nearby volcano. In Brandt’s words, the lake is so alkaline that it would “strip the ink of [his] Kodak film boxes in a few seconds”.
It is suspected that the birds died due to natural causes and were coated with salt as the water receded. Locals have, however, reported birds crash-landing into the lake with no apparent cause, which has garnered it a rather unsettling reputation. Brandt’s photographs perfectly captures this eerie, almost ethereal, atmosphere.
Cover photo courtesy of View Asskew, Flickr Creative Commons