Reading Time: 10 minutes



Words By Giulia Dattrino

Jimmy was born in England, yet spent his entire childhood moving around, living in the most exotic and unusual places as a result of his father’s career. “I grew up in many of the countries that I work in now. During the first years of my life I felt very free, very connected and very safe in parts of the world where most of the developed world is afraid of”. When he was seven, he returned to England, where he attended a boarding school for the next ten years of his life.

Taking his first picture when he was seventeen, Jimmy explains that his journey as a photographer started out by connecting and interacting with all kinds of people with no preconceived judgments. This urge to communicate with other cultures came after his formative education in England, where he often did not feel safe (contrary to our perceptions of such developed countries), felt out of his comfort zone and in an environment where judging others was common or almost a societal norm.

When talking about his decision to become a photographer, Jimmy says “I didn’t wake up one day and decided to be a photographer” the camera was simply a comfort for him to take on a journey, where it would make him feel safe. His relationship with the camera is still nowadays a medium to carry on this journey and through which he has created a platform with which to share his art with the world.

“The camera itself does not overly interest me”, states Jimmy, “But where it can take me”.

Two books were released in the last decade with Jimmy’s lifetime work, showcasing his photography from over the years, and when asked what he was trying to achieve, Jimmy said that the answer is always evolving. At first his work primarily concerned himself, his self discovery, and path of personal survival. Though, over time, his work led him towards content creation surrounding cultural extinction, soon becoming his most prolific work. Back in 2013, Jimmy was surprised by the positive response of the public towards his first book, “Before they pass away”, which made him question why he was doing that. The answer for this question is still today far from concrete, but he explains that he sees his work as a road to facilitate humanities saviour as a whole, not just the endangered species, by realigning and discussing how we all live, through a very specific and eccentric perspective. His work is able to do this since it shows another perspective of human life, which directs us in a modern world toward questioning our entire way of living, and our unnecessary materialistic and unfulfilling lifestyles.

By creating Before they pass away and Homage to Humanity, both of Jimmy’s books’ goal was to appreciate the consistent evolution of the cultures his work depicts, while enabling them to have access to everything that we have, in a more balanced and healthy way”. Jimmy defines the content he produces as art, not science, but rather a work of subjectivity and romance. He says that his work is about being humble and not letting one’s ego affect how they view others, “They may be half-naked and don’t have any money, but they may still be better off than we are”. We often regard the developed world as richer, though wealth quite clearly means different things to contrasting cultures.

“I don’t expect to solve anything, but I hope that with this art one can question themselves”, says Jimmy when emphasizing the importance of internal reflection as a consequence of appreciating his art.

Of all his adventures, one of the most memorable was in the North East of Siberia, amongst a native nomadic community. He and his team took two weeks, during winter, to find thiscommunity, though after locating them, they were reluctant to allow their lives to be documented, arguing “isn’t this why you came? To learn who we are and how we live”. This question was painful for Jimmy; “there I realized that maybe I was only wanting the picture”. He then stayed for two weeks without taking a single photograph. At the end of this period, the community allowed some photographs to validate their stay.

Forced to set down his camera, and reconnect with the world through only his eyes for a short time, Jimmy observed and participated. When discussing why the community was resistant to being photographed, they explained that they once lived in cities. Dictating that there was no longer need for nomadic lifestyles, the Government has sent them to urban areas. However, they became extremely unhappy, the community returned to their nomadic lifestyles in the tundras. Jimmy’s lessons on this journey were many, from the uncertainty of finding these people, not being able to take pictures for two weeks, being under extreme weather conditions and mostly important seeing that some people find the life on the tundras, without any materialistic comfort, richer.

When discussing one of the greatest collective threats to all of humanity’s survival, Jimmy informs me that in his experience, he has seen firsthand how these communities feel the changes and adapt quickly. While they are not collecting data, they can not articulate these changes in the same way, and so it transforms indigenous peoples into more intuitive and less stressed societies, where they do not have a forecast of the future full of negative prognosis.

Jimmy’s near future plan is an exhibition on the Atelier de Lumiere, in Paris. Like many other exhibitions held at the centre, this exhibition will present his work digitally accompanied by music and film. The show is called “The Last Sentinels” and will run from the 16th of October until the 31st of October, from 6:30pm to 11pm.

“The Last Sentinels is an experience that will celebrate the beauty of our planet with the world’s last indigenous cultures.” The artist Jimmy Nelson invites you to see the bigger picture and celebrate diversity. “Only then can we meet the enormous challenges we face as humans in the decades to come.The time is now to put our differences aside and to work with one another, for a brighter future.This experience will take you on a journey to all the corners of the world, following the footsteps of the world’s last indigenous people.”