The Glory of Forgotten Peoples, by Jimmy Nelson


For thirty years, Jimmy Nelson has traveled the world in search of the rich hours of native tribes. In Homage to Humanity (Rizzoli editions), it immortalizes the beauty and traditions of 34 ethnic groups.

According to an article Paris Match France by Frédérique Féron.

Coyote skins and eagle feather crowns… They chose their finest adornments, grabbed axes and spears and painted their faces. Among the Jonaz Chichimecs, a once semi-nomadic community of Mexican Indians, visitors are rare and gringos are not welcome. But there it is who could offer the most “tacos and tortillas”, they are so grateful that a European is interested in them. Equipped like their ancestors, they led Jimmy Nelson and his team to their mountain. And took the pose on a rock, waiting without flinching for the last rays of the sun.

For nearly thirty years, Jimmy Nelson has traveled the world to meet tribes and civilizations threatened by modernity and globalization. He captures their image and their traditions ” before they disappear “: Before they pass away is also the title of his first book, published in 2013, a success which encouraged him to continue his work. His reference: the photographer-ethnologist Edward Curtis who, at the beginning of the 20th century, immortalized the Indians of North America in all their splendor.

From the country, Jimmy saw it from an early age. His father, a geologist, carried the family around the four continents. He had been back in England for several years now when, at the age of 16, the teenager suffered from total alopecia, an autoimmune disease. Jimmy goes bald overnight. ” I felt that people don’t look at me the same way anymore He said. Two years later, he gave up the idea of ​​studying and began to cross Tibet, a country where children were shaved, on foot. The opportunity to catch another virus: that of photography, and the passion of indigenous peoples.

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JImmy Nelson with Marquesans on Ua Pou Island, 2016 © Jimmy Nelson

I am proud to have the same warrior blood as my ancestors Says Carmen, a Chichimec. ” We fought not to be exterminated by the Spaniards. Today we are also fighting… to save our children from drugs and alcohol “. Yes, she finds that things have changed a lot in a few years, that the community leaders no longer have any authority over their young people, that the future is bleak for them, even her son has considered suicide. Yet Carmen still has dreams. Her daughters help her learn about social media. She would like to introduce her culinary specialties to the people of San Luis de La Paz. And maybe open a restaurant. Jimmy Nelson shoots his portrait in traditional attire. Carmen stares straight into the lens, her eyes wet but her chin up.

Often, locals are reluctant to have their picture taken

You must not believe that it is always so easy. Often, locals are reluctant to have their picture taken for a purpose they do not understand… especially when, for lack of a translator, sign language has to be improvised. To gain their trust, Jimmy gives of himself. He ate huge living larvae with the Kaluli in Papua New Guinea, danced day and night with the Wodaabe of Chad, spent days playing in the Nile with the Mandari children of South Sudan… Establish some kind of connection. privacy sometimes seems impossible. As among the Tsaatan of the borders of Siberia, who perpetuate a way of life inherited from prehistoric times. They are only 44 families. ” The reindeer people were unwilling to pose for me for hours on end in the biting cold, says the photographer. I tried to fit in by participating in multiple household chores. In vain. It was by taking a memorable vodka binge with them that I managed to break the ice. The next day, I was able to take all the photos I wanted!

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Dolgan people, Siberia. The clothes of these nomadic reindeer herders, in the middle of the polar tundra, are made of wolf and reindeer skin. The temperature may drop to -60 ° C. To protect the batteries of his cameras, Jimmy Nelson was forced to keep them against his skin. © Jimmy Nelson

Sometimes it is the authorities who obstruct. In the vastness of China, despite the great storm of modernity, a few villages of indigenous people survive which resist as best they can. Among the Miao people of the province of Guizhou, in the South, one of the fifty ethnic minorities of China, Jimmy works under close surveillance: the government has imposed a guide, a driver, an official in charge of filming everything … In Langde, village made up of astonishing wooden houses seven hundred years old, women commonly wear their silver adornments topped with a crescent moon: up to 15 kilos on their heads! ” My headdress, explains Wen, I got it from my mother, who got it from hers, and it is my greatest treasure. We Miao worship the Moon. Our songs say that God created the star with money “. Here, if the traditions are intact, it is because they are sponsored by the state in the hope of attracting tourists. The young woman creates clothes and traditional handicrafts, which she sells to the hundreds of visitors who pass by each day. She hopes that more and more will come. Authenticity loses there. But sometimes tourism helps to preserve customs. From the hostile jungle of Papua to the arid wild summits of Altai, we meet more and more Westerners in search of a change of scenery and returning to their roots.

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China, Guizhou province. Today in wool, the ceremonial headdress of the Miao was once made from the hair of ancestors. © Jimmy Nelson

The Kazakh Dalakhangrand, a great expert in eagle hunting, is happy to welcome globetrotters of all nationalities. He explains to them how, for more than two thousand years, raptors and Kazakhs have formed a peerless team to catch game. ” Our traditions are unique and we want to share them with foreigners. People today need others to preserve their identity “. At 55, the Mongolian also has desires elsewhere. He left for a three month ride to India: “ My goal is to go around the world, little by little “. Jimmy, who has often returned to Mongolia, is happy to note that Kazakh culture, far from declining, has grown stronger. Now women are encouraged to become eagle hunters. And when the Englishman organizes his shots, they are on the photo of the group of hunters.

In a region with extreme cold, wearing clothes and hats made of wolf, fox or rabbit fur is not folklore. Especially when you have to wait in the freezing wind, on horseback and eagle in hand, for Jimmy to finally press the shutter button. It sometimes takes days to find the ideal natural setting, hours to hope for the perfect light that will sublimate the beauty of the costumes and the faces. Each of his photos is a painting composed with care. These productions have earned him criticism. He was accused of ” look too good to be true », To freeze peoples in their past. The artist recognizes his desire for aesthetic perfection: “ If I represent them dressed in their finest finery, it’s because I want to be looked at. Each ethnic group has a unique beauty “. His “Homage to humanity” will not stop there: “ Spending time with these small, withdrawn communities is a drug, he said. With them, I really feel like I’m alive “.

An exhibition of his best photos will be held at the A.galerie, 4 rue Léonce Reynaud in Paris, from November 8, 2018 to January 5, 2019.

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