Since 2010, Jimmy Nelson has embarked on thirteen journeys to photograph the world's least known and most imperiled tribal peoples from the Hoaorani villages deep in the Amazon rainforest, to the Huli and Kalam of New Guinea, to the Tsaatan and Kazaakh of Mongolia and to the Mursi people in the remote highlands of southern Ethiopia.

This ambitious ongoing project is to create a document of remote cultures whose traditional way of life is under siege. Inspired by Edward Sheriff Curtis' iconic documentation of Native American peoples, Nelson's style of self-trained visual anthropology is concerned with telling stories about the fascinating variety of tribal cultures, their symbols, dress, customs and rites. Nelson's intention is to express the dignity in diversity, and like Curtis he takes an active role in orchestrating his subjects, romanticizing them in a way that engages their own desires to be seen. Furthermore, in an upcoming stage of the project, Nelson plans to return to the tribes he has photographed with the monumental book of his work that TeNeues has published.          

What does it mean to glamorize an indigenous people? His images are not meant to be candid in the sense of picturing an unwitting subject; instead, he frames them in a way that beautifies their individuality. It's important to note that a great deal of Nelson's process involves ingratiating himself as an outsider until a trust is established before he begins photographing.

The arrangement of one's subjects has been perhaps the great recurrent controversy in the history of photography. Whether an image is of something "real" or staged hinges on a false dichotomy that attempts a hard delineation between image-maker and subject. The truth is that whether in particle physics or photography, the very act of observing will invariably effect what is being observed. Nelson indulges in the interaction, going to epic and excruciating lengths to capture his images. The potent visual magnetism of Nelson's images and the earnest fascination which underlies them, assures them a place as not only a visual reference for future generations, but as masterworks in their own right.         


Jimmy Nelson (b. 1967, Sevenoaks, Kent) is based in the Netherlands. His recent monograph, Before They Pass Away, was published in 2014. Nelson recently participated in TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro and his exhibition at the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal, Netherlands, runs through June 2015.