Week 5 (Minor): Jimmy Nelson – Before they pass away

Jimmy Nelson is a British photographer, well known for his work which depicts indigenous and tribal portraiture of cultures from all around the world. “Before They Pass Away” is a series created for the purpose being that Nelson could capture the beauty of these remote communities and encourage people to learn their customs and traditions whilst also serving to protect them through his photography.

Nelson’s photography is beautiful and yet haunting through the use of a vignette which draws more attention towards the primary subject and dark backgrounds. This does, somewhat, reflect the title being it is a sensitive and dark subject. He also takes photos of the communities surrounded by the land and where they are from which creates a strong sense of belonging and identity.


And although, each tribe is different, all carry an overwhelming sense of sadness as more and more tribes fall victim to modernisation whilst their culture ideologies also face becoming endangered and the idea of losing their true identity looms over them.

The topic is controversial with some indigenous leaders claiming that Nelson is exploiting them for his own gain and that the title is misleading and wrong as Davi Kopenawa explains: “…It is not true that indigenous peoples are about to die out. We will be around for a long time, fighting for our land, living in this world and continuing to create our children.”

Although Nelson’s intentions were to present the indigenous in a way of admiration and mortal preservation, his work also reflects certain attitudes of early colonisation where the Europeans considered the indigenous as “exotic” and put them on display as a form of entertainment/amusement.

The photographs are beautiful and capture the beauty of a multicultural society, nonetheless.

Imagery Source: http://www.beforethey.com/

References: http://resourcemagonline.com/2015/06/15-legendary-photographers-you-should-know/53625/

Before They Pass Away: Q&A with Jimmy Nelson



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