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Before they pass away: Jimmy Nelson exhibits at Young Gallery
Installation view.

BRUSSELS.- Between 2010 & 2014 Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to document some of the most amazing indigenous cultures left on the planet today. From a life spent travelling, he had come to realize that his camera was the perfect tool to make contact and build intimate and unique friendships, a tool that enabled him to establish a rapport with hitherto unknown communities in some of the most far-flung places on earth. His goal was to determine 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.

The title of Jimmy’s project, ‘Before they pass away’, is designed to act as a catalyst for further discussion as to the authenticity of these fragile and disappearing cultures. Jimmy Nelson is not a qualified scientist but rather a self-trained ethnologist and visual anthropologist who tries to find answers through curiosity. He wants to tell stories that leave room for the recipient’s questions. Through the project, Jimmy Nelson wanted to raise awareness for the fascinating variety of culture- and history-charged symbols of these people, symbols that reflect their rites, customs and traditions.

Jimmy Nelson’s pictures merely reveal the tip of the iceberg. He consciously chose just thirty-one of the threatened tribes and cultures, based on their geographical and traditional extravagance, but above all for their illuminating beauty. What drives him is not compassion for poverty or illness, but passion for painted bodies: mirrors of pure souls, messages in flesh, worn as a second skin. His fascination for the rapidly vanishing harmony between man and nature takes us to places we thought had disappeared long ago. His cry for attention is so loud that we cannot help but react.

He raises the question whether man will sever the fragile umbilical cord with our extraordinary primeval past and risk killing our cultural purpose.

Or will we make a different choice?

It is his hope that we will all gather round the digital fireplace of humanity and continue to tell the stories for generations to come; stories of what it means to be alive on a planet that has survived the 21st century.

The great social anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that, having been born into a polychromatic world of cultural diversity, it was her fear that our grandchildren will grow in a monochromatic world not ever having known anything else.

Jimmy Nelson (UK, °1967) 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 for many of the world leading publications 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 Ashkaine produced ‘Literary Portraits of China’, a 40-month project that took 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 successful worldwide tour.

From 1997 onwards, Jimmy began to successfully undertake commercial advertising assignments for many of the world’s leading brands whilst creating a family based in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. At the same time, he started accumulating images of remote and unique cultures photographed with a traditional 50-year-old plate camera, and awards followed.

International exhibitions and acclaim subsequently created the momentum and enthusiasm for the initiation of Before they Pass Away in 2010.

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