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A Photographer's Journey to 5 Continents to Document 35 Tribes Before They Disappear

Jessica Rivera

British photographer Jimmy Nelson decided to travel the world for three years, visiting 35 tribes in all five continents, to document their lives and customs before they disappear. He compiled the photos into a book entitled, "Before They Pass Away." The next step is to go back to all 35 tribes and show them their photos, explaining to them why he made them.

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  • Pablo Prieto

    This project is all but journalism. Its produces an altered reality that lacks truth. I can't see the difference between this type of work and a fashion shoot for Vogue on location. The photographer sets and manipulates the elements in space to communicate its vision.

  • Sveva Pettorino

    I think this is a remarkable project... any effort to shed light on these almost forgotten tribes is a step in trying to preserve their heritage and culture. I have studied Tibetan language and culture for 6 years and have lived there for a year and totally see the importance of doing what is possible to preserve their incredible patrimony.

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      Interesting Sveva. Do you have blog posts about it? Would love to see them linkshared!

      • Sveva Pettorino

        Hi Alessandra! I actually had a blog from my time in Tibet but unfortunately it got deleted :(
        I actually did my master thesis on the preservation of tibetan traditional music...I had the chance to interview many incredible artists. If you are interested I would recommend you to listen to Kelsang Chukie Tethong :)

        • Alessandra Rizzotti

          Email me at alessandra[at]goodinc[dot]com so we can talk about how you can write about it on!

  • Khatnyp

    This guy seems pretty arrogant. He's not that good of a photographer.

  • Carolyn Sams

    His photographs are beautiful, no doubt, but it feels rather sad... like a sort of fatalistic approach to observing these people. Why must these tribes "pass away" and how can future generations still hold on to some of these traditions? By creating such a sense of "other" through these photos, is it making the "extinction" of these tribes come quicker?

    • Annie Wu

      Completely agree! I get the sense of objectification in the way that he writes about and portrays these people. The photos themselves are absolutely breathtaking, but I wonder what this project would have been like if he had taken a more intimate, less staged approach.

  • Alex Cheung

    The website is a bit self-aggrandizing (does anyone else get the same feeling?), but I do appreciate the effort in capturing extant tribal communities.

  • Stef McDonald

    The return visit is what impresses me the most. Also a good personal reminder for all of us—to document family customs, traditions, recipes etc. for future generations.

    • Yasha Wallin

      Very good point. You don't initially think of your own family in this context, but I guess we all have our own localized tribes whether they be friends, family, coworkers, collaborators, etc.

  • katie beck

    Wow! What an amazing project. This work is so important. I'd love to see / hear about the conversations that happen between the photographer and the tribes he documented, and about the conversations this process has started within those communities as well. A beautiful and important idea. Good work!

  • Catarina Guimaraes

    This is so beautiful! This experience must have been sublime. I almost wish Jimmy Nelson would write a book about his experience and how it changed him.

    • Jessica Rivera

      He did! The book is entitled "Before They Pass" - it covers 1/3 of his work. He plans on visiting 35 more tribes and keep the story going!