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Before They Pass Away: A Photographer Races After Vanishing Tribes

By Jane Hwang - 2014-01-07T15:48:54Z

Photograph by Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

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Before They Pass Away

Photographer Jimmy Nelson set out on a journey to the remote homelands of ancient, isolated civilizations. "My dream had always been to preserve our world’s tribes through my photography. Not to stop change from happening – because I know I can’t – but to create a visual document reminding us, and the generations after us, of the beauty of pure and honest living. Like Edward Curtis, the American ethnologist and photographer, who documented the North American Indians in their full glory at the beginning of last century, I wanted to create carefully orchestrated portraits of these amazing tribes, at their absolute proudest." He developed relationships with some of the world's last tribes, and a sheaf of fantastic photos, published in Before They Pass Away by teNeues

Historian Mark Blaisse observes in the introduction that Nelson "consciously chose threatened tribes and cultures, based on their geographical and traditional extravagance, but above all for their illuminating beauty. If we do not document these last unspoiled [people] and their rituals, they will disappear without a trace. It will be too late to mourn when the last tribesmen are wearing suits and living in townhouses." 

Nelson, 46, thanks his business partner and principal investor, billionaire Marcel Boerkhoorn. "Convinced of the sincerity of my intentions and inspired by the idea of leaving behind a cultural footprint himself, [Boerkhoorn] got on board and, in doing so, took the project to a whole other level," he writes. 

Left:  Huli Wig Men, Ambua Falls, Tari Valley, Papua New Guinea, 2010