Cultural Photography

July 11, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

If you notice my masthead on this website, you'll see "Culture" as one of my focuses. I love exploring the cultures of the world, often with spiritual overtones. Cultures involve people and their environment; their rituals, their built structures, their natural setting. 

BBC highlighted the photography of Jimmy Nelson who has spent the past five years getting to know some thirty slowly vanishing tribal groupings around the world. The results are in a newly published book entitled "Before They Pass Away." The quality of the photographs is nothing sort of brilliant. Taken with a 4x5 plate camera, the photographs have immense detail and illustrate the photographer's caring vision for these groups, which he spends considerable time with often before setting the camera up.  The BBC story can be found at: http://www.bbc.com/travel/bespoke/story/20150326-travel-pioneers/jimmy-nelson/index.html.

But I'm troubled by one major element of Jimmy's photography - they are not just posed, but are also as he says, not natural.  In his own words: "The pictures are definitely arranged. People don’t naturally stand under a waterfall at 7 am waiting for the sun to rise, unless you ask them to. I’m presenting these people in a way that hasn’t been done before. We present ourselves in the developed world in a very idealised, stylised way because we believe we are important." Perhaps not that different from Edward Curtis and his famous series of Native American portraits. But I'm still bothered by the settings and posed not being natural. I don't pretend to be a portrait photographer; but I do like to create images that portray real life.

Mr. Nelson's work is visually stunning and I acknowledge his craft and his intention to show a proud people. I just wish the settings were in keeping with each tribe's cultural environment.

 


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