British-born photographer Jimmy Nelson has always enjoyed exploring other cultures and regions besides his own.
It started in 1987, the year he left boarding school and traveled the entire length of Tibet on foot. The journey lasted over a year and resulted in a series of striking images of a country largely unknown by the rest of the world.
Later on as a professional photographer, he went on to document the Russian involvement in Afghanistan, the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and war in former Yugoslavia.
In addition to this, he also managed to visit 29 indigenous tribes all over the world and take a series of portraits of these people and their vanishing way of life using an antique plate glass camera.
Nelson calls his project Before They Pass Away.
While he doesn’t feel that this photos will prevent their inevitable extinction, he does feel that by providing a photographic record of their existence and their customs he is showing the West “that they are already rich, that they have something that money can’t buy. I would like to demonstrate to them that the Western modern society is not as pure and inspiring as their own culture and values and therefore it is not something to necessarily aspire to.”
When I view these images, I am reminded that “progress” and modernization doesn’t always mean better. I also wonder if the subjects believe that they are the last of their kind or if they believe that their values and way of life will somehow continue even as their children and grandchildren become increasingly more Westernized.
I don’t have an answer to that.
In any case, these beautiful, bittersweet images will last for lifetimes.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise