Before They Pass Away – Jimmy Nelson

Before reading any of my thoughts, my opinions or seeing any of these images, go on this journey for yourself. Look through the website, get lost in it and develop your own relationship to these works.

This is an incredible project, with implications that spread far beyond the reality of the decline of certain tribes in remote parts of the world. Not only do these images bring us a reality that we’ve never experienced, filled with images with entirely new symbols, aesthetics and landscapes, but it gives us the real and palpable feeling of something that is beyond us.

Good art makes you talk. This is a motto I stick with while curating the work at Blank Space (the gallery attachment to this blog, Good art gets you thinking – it doesn’t have to be about the topic that the artist intended or wanted, either. If you see an image and you find yourself talking about something that wasn’t previously on your mind before viewing the piece, then that art has succeeded in moving you. It can move you in positive and negative ways, and sometimes even both. These images are an example of the latter.

I won’t be getting into the beautiful aesthetic and artistry of these pieces like I normally do. Not only do I often feel under-qualified to discuss photography, but I feel like the bulk of the beauty of these pieces is due to the tribe’s culture themselves, and this man’s journey to capture them. Of course, I could talk about Jimmy Nelson’s own humantistic and philanthropic attitude for capturing these images, but I am sure that he can do that better himself.

I just want to share with everyone my thoughts when I first saw these images, and begin a discussion on this topic. Let’s begin with a quote from the artist himself to springboard directly in the middle of this conversation:

“I didn’t start this project anticipating that I could stop the world from changing. I purely wanted to create a visual document that reminds us and generations to come of how beautiful the human world once was.” – Jimmy Nelson

Outside of the incredible imagery here, with its resounding ability to inspire and motivate artists in every field, though possibly more so in concept and imaginative directions, this series brings a taste of mortality to the table. It is difficult to bring mortality into any discussion tastefully, as it is macabre, it feels either depressing or fetishized. This is one of the first instances where I have felt the topic discussed with a true sense of beauty. The idea that the passing of all things, no matter how beautiful or substantial or real, is inevitable is terrifying. But, it is perhaps the fact that it must pass that makes it beautiful, substantial, and real.

The artist is not asking us to start a campaign to save these people. He is not telling us how tragic it is that these images will be all that is left of these people in a few decades time.  All he is telling us is to look. Look at these people. Look into their eyes, see their lives and hear their stories. Do not pity them.

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