Art

Jimmy Nelson: Before They Pass Away

In his book Before They Pass Away Jimmy Nelson traversed the far corners of the earth to document the last members of remote tribes. In these lush and astonishing pictures, CBK invites you to meet fascinating, vanishing members of the human race.

Interview by Citizen Brooklyn - Icarus@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos by Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues
Huli Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Huli Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Citizen Brooklyn: How has your Jesuit upbringing influenced your work?
It instilled a discipline in me, and a passion. I am a very religious person, but not from any denomination. A lot of what I believe I plug from other religions. I’m not a catholic now, but Catholicism did have an influence in my youth.

Goroka Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Goroka Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: Describe the camera you work with.
I work with a compilation of three different manufacturers: Schnieder for lens, the body is a Linhoff and there are pieces from Cambo. I created a portable light 4 x 5 technical plate camera. Traditionally, this camera is used in studios. I stripped it down to a light, mobile version of it.

Chukchi Tribe, Chukotka, Siberia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Chukchi Tribe, Chukotka, Siberia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: What is your approach when reaching out to members of remote tribes to photograph them?
The humbler you are, with time, the more you play to their vanity in a genuine manner. That’s how you connect to people.

Goroka Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Goroka Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: How do you find these tribes and how do you communicate with them?
Finding these tribes is twenty years of on-going research and hearing about them through previous travels. We connected initially through a guide and translator and then I carried on the relations on my own.

Himba Tribe, Namibia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Himba Tribe, Namibia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: Worst experience doing this work?
I miss my family.

CBK: Best experience?
Having these fantastic human interactions on a very pure level.

Huli Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Huli Tribe, Papua, New Guinea Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: Most unusual?
Spending a month in a metal box (an old tank) going ten kilometers an hour in minus thirty degrees Celsius in Tundra and not sure I could get to tribes I was looking for. There was no guarantee. Eventually, we found them.

Dropka Tribe, India Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Dropka Tribe, India Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: Most awkward?
One of my favorite awkward moments was on top of the mountain in Kazakhstan. It was a cold, early morning, the sun was rising, I was very excited and took off gloves to take a photo of this cinematic, Hollywood, spectacular sunrise when my hands froze to the camera. I started crying as I could not move to take the photograph. Two female Kazaks came over, took their gloves off, put their warm hands on my hand, stood in front and behind me and started to rock me like a baby, this was a warm and intimate experience. I was given a renewed feeling of being vulnerable and desperate. When people see you this way, they are willing to break down their values to help you. By being vulnerable, one can make contact on deep level.

Kazakh Tribe, Mongolia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Kazakh Tribe, Mongolia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: Most frightful/nerve wracking?
On my very first trip I caught meningitis and, there after, I never got sick again.

CBK: How has the journey of taking these pictures changed you?
It is continuously changing me. Each journey makes me aware of my own domestic situation, teaches me to listen to my instincts and appreciate the environment I live in. The journey inspires me to address my life’s balance and to teach other people what I’ve learned. By default I spend more time communicating than taking pictures. It’s about the process.

Kazakh Tribe, Mongolia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Kazakh Tribe, Mongolia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: How has this changed your definition of beauty?
It hasn’t changed my definition of beauty; it has only confirmed what I knew all along. True beauty on a human basis is within. The pictures I made beautified the tribes as a way to deliver a message about their story, but true beauty goes beyond aesthetics and comes from within. I have known this all my life. This journey has confirmed that beauty comes from within. To communicate the validity of the subject matter, I used beauty as a medium.

Kazakh Tribe, Mongolia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Kazakh Tribe, Mongolia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: Any ideas or practices of these tribes we should adapt to the modern world?
We should spend far more time as a family unit and integrate children, the family and the elders far more than we do. Children should be given bigger roles and older people should be respected for their wisdom.

Ladaki Tribe, India Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Ladaki Tribe, India Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

CBK: Where will you be next?
I plan to return to all the tribes with the book and discuss the Before They Pass Away project with them, starting a dialogue, and I plan to document another thirty-five tribes after that.

Maasai Tribe, Tanzania Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Maasai Tribe, Tanzania Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

 

Maori Tribe, New Zealand Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Maori Tribe, New Zealand Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Mursi Tribe, Ethiopia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Mursi Tribe, Ethiopia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Mustang Tribe, Nepal Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Mustang Tribe, Nepal Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Nenets Tribe, Russia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Nenets Tribe, Russia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Rabari Tribe, India Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Rabari Tribe, India Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Samburu Tribe, Kenya Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Samburu Tribe, Kenya Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Samburu Tribe, Kenya Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Samburu Tribe, Kenya Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Tsaatan Tribe, Mongolia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Tsaatan Tribe, Mongolia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Vanuatu, Vanuatu Islands Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Vanuatu, Vanuatu Islands Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Yali Tribe, Indonesia Photo  © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

Yali Tribe, Indonesia Photo © Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

For more information on Before They Pass Away visit www.beforethey.com

4 Responses to “Jimmy Nelson: Before They Pass Away”

  1. ramon ocasio says:

    Nice pics, very interesting

  2. mop` says:

    Very impressing pictures. Hope to see more soon.

  3. Paik Cook says:

    Stunning pictures, also very meaningful (recording vanishing people).

  4. Ratnakor says:

    Sometimes I went the hilly area of our country. The place called bandorban. Where the government started ethnic cleansing. Ans what we the People of this country do (majority are Muslims), we try to make this tribal people more civilized!!!We dominate their language, there culture, their lifestyle, their ancient believes. Because most of the people in this country believe that Muslim/ Bengali culture are superiors’ then tribal culture. We destroy them, their culture, their land their forest. Disrespect their women……. rape them when we get chance. And govt is with us with this ethnic cleansing. I think all human history is the same. We like to dominate, we like destruction, we are afraid to see the different thing.12 march I came back from the mountain. Now I am in the city. Feeling so sad……. So afraid to see the future when there is no tribal people / culture are exist in my country….We destroy this brave and Pure hearted people culture.

    Ratnakor(Bangladesh)

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