At the beginning of summer, me and my friend Faye went to see the exposition of Jimmy Nelson's work from his "Before They Pass Away" collection in the Amsterdam Rademakers Gallery. In this collection, Jimmy Nelson has captured many tribes and cultures that are in danger of disappearance. JN says it in this video: "We have to start documenting these cultures very, very, very quickly, 'cause they're going to disappear, and as soon as they disappear, we will loose something which is very, very, very important to us." So JN traveled the globe to document several of these vanishing tribes - from Ethiopia to Papua New Guinea to Mongolia to India, even The Netherlands! - and he does so in the most remarkable way. His photographs truly pierce you to the bone, and the people in them look at you with the most penetrating stare - as if they want to convey a clear message. I was certainly struck by his work while I walked passed it at the expo. Struck by the beauty of these people, captured in such a marvelous way, struck by the realization that there are so many different people in this world, struck by all the different, unaffected cultures, with all their traditional habits and looks - and its a sad realization that they won't last forever.
I think this may be the point at which I, grown up in a white men's world, truly understood the beauty of different skin colors. I actually felt quite amazed by the smoothness of the skins of some African tribe people, or by the weather-beaten skins of some Siberian people - pale, except for the pink flowers on their cheeks. JN captured all those skins in such a pure and perfect way, with so much detail - it was incredible to look at that.
How amazing would it be, to be like JN and to be able to travel the world, meet all those extraordinary people, learn about all those rare cultures, and capture all this in beautiful and striking photographs? I think that must be a dream, to do that for a living. To me JN is a true inspiration.
Jimmy Nelson's work can be found in his book Before They Pass Away, which is on sale at Amazon (this is not sponsored, because if it was the book would be checked off my wish list).
Here are some masterpieces from Jimmy Nelson's Before They Pass Away. All photographs were taken by Jimmy Nelson. More of his work can be found on his website. If you're ever able to see an exposition of his work, I would recommend you to go - seeing his work in large printed images certainly evokes a different experience.
I think it is beautiful how JN sometimes photographs one person, solely one person, in front of a black background, so that our attention is drawn to this person only, and so we notice all the different and detailed aspects of this person, and realize how interesting one single person can be. They don't need anything but themselves, their faces alone are like a beautiful and hypnotizing mandala. I like it how some people almost merge with the background, but never vanish into it....they are rather like mountains that rise up high and mighty from a forest just as overgrown, and make the background vanish instead.
Then other photographs do not only capture an unique tribe, but the unique environment they live in as well. I found it incredible to see some Mongolian men, high up their horses, and with a big bird on their wrists - it must be a hawk or a falcon - while an endless plain of nothingness stretched behind them. Planet earth is gigantic! In many others as well, unspoiled nature, untouched by humans, covers the background.....as if JN wants to tell us that not only these people will vanish one day, but these intact pieces of earth, as it is now, as well. We all know deep down this is true, and we should be thankful that someone as Jimmy Nelson has managed to document all this with such incomparable skill.