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Photographer and conservationist Nick Brandt has produced an epic new book called Inherit the Dust, and there are worldwide exhibitions planned to showcase the work. Steve Fairclough spoke to him to discover the story behind the project

Nick Brandt first fell in love with Africa in the mid-1990s when in Tanzania directing the video for the late Michael Jackson’s single Earth Song.

In the early 2000s he decided to swap moving pictures for stills, and despite spending almost a decade producing the book trilogy On this Earth, A Shadow Falls and Across the Ravaged Land – the clue is to read the titles out together – Nick still felt driven to highlight the plight of animals in East Africa.

The result is Inherit the Dust, a striking collection of fine-art images that show large photographic panels of animals positioned and shot in landscapes where they had previously roamed, before mankind claimed and developed the land.

Down a phone line from his California home, in a clear English accent, Nick explains: ‘Having worked non-stop for years, I was planning on having a break… but I was so disturbed by the escalation of devastation, I just felt, “You know, I still haven’t really covered it”. What I had done up until that point was not enough.

‘The idea for Inherit the Dust kind of came into my head and I just ploughed into it and didn’t stop until I finished it two years later. The first nine months were basically going through my old contact sheets and finding stuff that was never used for one reason or another, good or bad. Then doing tests on my [US] mountainside, where we would build panels – up to 10x7m – and print up what we thought were the best animals at life-size, and then just prop them up and take photographs to see if they looked life-size. If an elephant is 12ft [3.6m] high it should be that big on a panel.’