For over 30 years Amsterdam-based Dutch-British photographer Jimmy Nelson has visited and photographed iconic cultures all across our planet. Now he exhibits 100 or so of his images at the exhibition Homage to Humanity at Fotografiska in Stockholm.
“I take pictures. I make images. Unlike film, which inundates you with movement and sound, defining the ongoing moment, a photograph just sits there quietly while you decide what it is saying. I strongly believe that artists must always be part of the conversation. We don’t exert tangible power, but we can reflect, ask questions and share ideas. Of course, there is a direction of what I ideally would like to share; my idea of aesthetic and empowerment for a better world, writes Jimmy Nelson on his webpage.
Provoking a discussion
“I’m not a journalist. I’m not an ethnologist. I’m not an anthropologist. I’m an artist. I’m provoking a discussion,” Nelson said at a press meeting some time ago.
From the Siberian tundra to the coral islands of the Pacific, he has, with heartfelt curiosity, warmth and respect, contacted and met indigenous peoples who live in close symbiosis with nature. And the message Nelson conveys is that we have so much to learn from them: We must embrace the knowledge of those who live in the most beautiful and isolated places on Earth and ensure that their cultures survive.
He hopes to nurture a pride
Jimmy Nelson’s idea of representing these people in the most dignified way has a particular purpose, the most important being that more remote people in many cases without a global perspective could get an even slightly better sense of their uniqueness and importance in the world through the work he does. He hopes it nurtures a pride that will help them to be more resilient to the pressures around them.
His book from 2013, “Before They Pass Away” features a collection of photographs from across the globe, including portraits of Ethiopian tribes and communities in Mongolia and New Guinea.
“We must both photograph them before they’re gone, and fight to prevent this from happening. Every tribe possesses a unique story in its capacity to symbiotically live together with wildlife and nature, a skill that has sometimes taken millennia to evolve. And they will soon disappear if we don’t make a concerted effort, and when they disappear our roots will disappear along with them,” says Nelson.
As a young boy, Jimmy lived all over Africa, due to his father’s job as a geologist for Shell. He was sent away to a traditional English boarding school in 1974 at the age of seven. The next ten years of his life were spent travelling across the world from his nomadic parents’ remote locations to an archaic English institution.
With his first camera, a Zenit B and a few rolls of color negative film he was able to encounter the warmth and empathy with other human beings that he had been longing for. These new friends adopted him into their extended families and he was subsequently free of prejudices and felt like he had come home.
Homage to Humanity in Stockholm
In his second photography book, “Homage to Humanity,” he continues his efforts to start a dialogue about culture preservation in the face of globalization. In his exhibition Homage to Humanity at Fotografiska, and book of the same name, Nelson makes use of the latest app technology to get people engaged. Each photo is also a film in which you the viewer, with your smartphone, are taken on a journey into the midst of these magnificent worlds. You are among the Dolgan whose reindeer are running across melting ice; you can feel the ground vibrate under your feet as part of a ritual dance, and you are standing and gazing upwards at a mountain peak where Nelson asked a community to pose for a photograph you will never forget.
The Jimmy Nelson Foundation
As a result of both books becoming a worldwide success, his project has now gained a sustainable natural momentum. “We seem to have touched upon the Zeitgeist of the global discussion,” he says. His industrious team in Amsterdam is busy creating many exhibits and installations, which will be presented around the world to enable them to share their story.
Despite having faced his share of critics, Nelson denies he’s exploiting any communities and says he will be continuing his voyage of discovery. “The least I can do is give back the opportunity for these communities to reaffirm their value for themselves. This has culminated into the Jimmy Nelson Foundation,” he says.
“All of the 100 or so photographs in the exhibition showcase Jimmy Nelson’s unique expression, which has made him the acclaimed photographer, scenographer, and director he is. He works meticulously and can spend days on each image to ensure his vision is achieved; the spellbinding, enchanting atmosphere produced by the right light. Always in heartfelt and close cooperation with those he portrays,” says Jessica Jarl, Exhibition Producer at Fotografiska International.
Homage to Humanity in Stockholm, edited by Tor Kjolberg