Famous Photographers

Famous Photographers Series: Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson

With a sense of friendly envy and admiration I write about Jimmy Nelson, a British photographer who has captured some truly remarkable portraits of indigenous and tribal people from all over the World.

In 2009 Jimmy Nelson started to work on his biggest to date project, “Before they Pass Away”, which has taken 3 yrs and more than 35 indigenous tribes around the world in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the South Pacific all photographed with a 50 yrs old 4X5 camera. His gallery was shown in Camera Work in Berlin.

Nelson borrowed funds from a Dutch Billionaire, Marcel Boekhoorn to fund his project.

Jimmy Nelson was Born in 1967 in Sevenoaks, Kent. He spend his childhood in Africa, Asia and South America.  In 1985 Nelson trekked the length of Tibet on foot carrying a small camera to photograph the year long journey.  Following his experience Jimmy Nelson would become a photojournalist, and commissioned to cover a variety of conflicts such as the Russian involvement in Afghanistan and the ongoing strife between India and Pakistan in Kashmir to the beginning of the War in the former of Yugoslavia.

His work did receive criticisms from Stephen Corry the director of Survival International for presenting false and damaging picture of tribal peoples.  Corry claims that Jimmy Nelson’s work presents a fictionalized portrait of tribal people, but more importantly it glosses over the violence to which many of the tribes pictured are being subjected and fails to mention, that many minorities peoples, especially tribal ones, are not “disappearing” but they are being destroyed though illegal theft of their land and resources.

Papuan tribal leader Benny Wenda has also criticized Nelson for describing his tribe as “headhunters”, when in fact Dani have never practised cannibalism ” The real headhunters are the Indonesian military who have been killing my people”.

Mistakes made by Jimmy Nelson do not change the beauty and artistry of his images. They are outstanding as I type with envy and admiration for his work.

More of Nelson’s work

TEDx Amsterdam

Before they pass away

Photographer Jimmy Nelson documented 35 unique tribes in 44 countries around the world. He shares his stories about the connections he made and the lessons he has learned from these travels.

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