The work of British photographer Jimmy Nelson (b. 1967) has taken him to some of the least-travelled parts of the world. The self-taught artist began taking photographs when he embarked upon a journey across Tibet in 1987, aged just 19. His year-long journey through the Himalayan country lasted one year, and resulted in a visual diary of images of parts of Tibet that had not previously been explored. His initial foray into photography was published and gained him international attention.
Fast forward nearly three decades and Nelson has been present at some of the most culturally and historically significant events of our time. In the 1990s, he was commissioned to document Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan and the beginning of the war in Yugoslavia. In 1994, Nelson and his Dutch wife also embarked on a pioneering photography project in China just as the People’s Republic was opening up. The 30-month project, to be called Literary Portraits of China, took them to the far reaches of the vast nation.
In the late 1990s, Nelson began to receive advertising assignments from leading global brands, which he pursued at the same time as his personal projects. This closeness to commercial advertising has led some to criticize his work for perceived inauthenticity.
In recent years, Nelson embarked on undoubtedly his most ambitious project to date. For three years between 2010 and 2013, he travelled the globe, documenting some of the most remote indigenous cultures to have survived the onslaught of modernity. From the glacial Andean region in the far south of Argentina to the remote mountainous regions of Mongolia, to the rainforests of Indonesia, Nelson documented the remains of ancient lives.
The series, known as Before They Pass Away, is a spectacular celebration of the world’s remaining tribes. In one photo, a young girl from the Dropka tribe is captured wearing an exuberant headdress covered with flowers and other precious finery. The Dropkas – of which around 2,500 remain – live in three small villages in a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. They live mainly off vegetable gardens and wife-swapping is a norm. They are known for their love of ornamentation.
To continue reading about Jimmy Nelson, read the July/August issue of The Kurios.
Photo: Dropka © Jimmy Nelson. Photo courtesy of HEIST Online.