Lake Natron in Tanzania is one of the most serene lakes in Africa, but it’s also the source of some of the most phantasmagorical photographs ever captured — images that look as though living animals had instantly turned to stone.
The alkaline water in Lake Natron has a pH as high as 10.5 and is so caustic it can burn the skin and eyes of animals that aren’t adapted to it. The water’s alkalinity comes from the sodium carbonate and other minerals that flow into the lake from the surrounding hills. And deposits of sodium carbonate — which was once used in Egyptian mummification — also acts as a fantastic type of preservative for those animals unlucky enough to die in the waters of Lake Natron. The blood-red color of the lake is the result of the photosynthesis of a kind of bacteria. The only type of fish that can survive its deadly alkalinity is tilapia grahami.
“No one knows for certain exactly how they die, but the water has an extremely high soda and salt content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds.” says photographer Nick Brandt.
“I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life,’ as it were,” Brandt wrote, referring to the way he repositioned the animals. “Reanimated, alive again in death.”