Jimmy Nelson, born in Sevenoaks, Kent, in 1967, is a British photojournalist and photographer known for his portraits of tribal and indigenous peoples. Nelson started working as a photographer in 1987. Having spent 10 years at a Jesuit boarding school in the North of England, he set off on his own to traverse the length of Tibet on foot. The journey lasted a year and upon his return his unique visual diary, featuring revealing images of a previously inaccessible Tibet, was published to wide international acclaim.
Soon after, he was commissioned to cover a variety of culturally newsworthy themes, ranging from the Russian involvement in Afghanistan and the ongoing strife between India and Pakistan in Kashmir to the beginning of the war in former Yugoslavia. In early 1994 he and his Dutch wife produced Literary Portraits of China, a 30 month project that brought them to all the hidden corners of the newly opening People’s Republic. Upon its completion the images were exhibited in the People’s Palace on Tiananmen Square, Beijing, and then followed by a worldwide tour. From 1997 onwards Jimmy began to successfully undertake commercial advertising assignments for many of the world’s leading brands. At the same time he started accumulating images of remote and unique cultures photographed with a traditional 50-year-old plate camera.
Between 2010 and 2013 Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to document some of the most fantastic indigenous cultures left on the planet today. He had come to realize that from a life spent travelling that his camera was the perfect tool for making contact and building intimate and unique friendships. Relationships with hither to unknown and understood communities in some of the farther most reaches of the planet. He wanted to discover how the rest of the world is threatening to change their way of life forever. But most importantly, he wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time.
Jimmy’s projects title “Before they pass away” is intended to be a controversial catalyst for further discussion as to the authenticity of these fragile disappearing cultures. Jimmy Nelson is not a studied scientist but rather a self-trained and visual anthropologist who through curiosity is trying to find answers. He wants to tell stories that leave room for the recipient’s questions. With the project Jimmy Nelson tried next to creating a photographic document, creating awareness for the fascinating variety of the culture – and history charged symbols of the people, reflecting their rites, customs and traditions, that had hitherto has not existed.
Goroka and Kalam in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Karo in the Omo Valley of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, Kazakh in Eastern Europe and northern parts of Central Asia, Tsaatan in the remote subarctic taiga of Mongolia, Ladakhi in the Northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Maasai in Kenya and Tanzinia, and Mursi in Ethiopia are just a few examples of the people and cultures that Jimmy Nelson has visited and photographed.
He is currently based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.