Jimmy & Projects


Jimmy Nelson (UK, 1967) started working as a photographer in 1987. Having spent 10 years at a Jesuit boarding school in the North of England, he set off on his own to traverse the length of Tibet on foot (1985). The journey lasted a year and upon his return his unique visual diary, featuring revealing images of a previously inaccessible Tibet, was published to wide international acclaim.

Soon after (1987) he was commissioned to cover a variety of culturally newsworthy themes for many of the world leading publications ranging from the Russian involvement in Afghanistan and the ongoing strife between India and Pakistan in Kashmir to the beginning of the war in former Yugoslavia.

In early 1994 he and his Dutch wife Ashkaine Hora Adema produced “Literary Portraits of China”. A coffee table book about all indigenous cultures in China and their translated literature. The book was the result of a forty month project that took them to all the hidden corners of the newly opening People’s Republic. Upon its completion the images were exhibited in the People’s Palace on Tiananmen Square, Beijing, and then followed by a successful worldwide tour.






From 1997 onwards, Jimmy successfully undertook commercial advertising assignments for many of the world’s leading brands. At the same time he started accumulating images of remote and unique cultures photographed with a traditional 50-year-old plate camera and awards followed.

In 2010 he began his journey to create the iconic artistic document that became “Before They pass Away”. After visiting 35 chosen Indigenous communities, part 1 was published to International acclaim at the beginning of 2014 and received many awards.

Today Jimmy is still traveling and photographing to produce part 2 of the project. His communication and his passion are found on a far wider platform. He is exhibiting at International Museums, shows his work at the world’s leading Photographic Art galleries, speaking at international conferences and launched the Jimmy Nelson Foundation in October 2016.


Before They Pass Away

Before They Pass Away

Jimmy’s dream has always been to create awareness about our world’s indigenous cultures through his photography. He has wanted to create a visual document that shows us and future generations the beauty of how they live. Like Edward Sheriff Curtis, the famous American ethnologist and photographer, who documented the North American Indians at the beginning of last century, he wanted to create carefully orchestrated portraits of these amazing peoples, at their absolute proudest.

Since 2010, Jimmy Nelson has traveled to the world’s most hidden corners to photograph indigenous cultures. On his journeys he is continuously witnessing the speed with which the amazing communities are embracing the future. He has come to realize, after a life spent traveling, that his camera is the perfect tool for making contact and building intimate and unique connections.

Jimmy Nelson is not an anthropologist or a man of science. He does not claim to have the knowledge to address the questions we have about indigenous and other traditional cultures. He is a photographer and a storyteller. What started as a naive engagement with the peoples he met during work assignments, has over a period of three decades turned into a personal project. The book ‘Before they pass away’ is an homage to the cultures he will probably never fully understand, but who will never stop luring him to explore.

His experiences on these journeys have made a lasting impression on him. There is a great humility in how he has seen wealth defined by the cultures he has met. Where Jimmy is from, they are learnt to strive for material possessions. He feels that centuries of that conception have brought the world to the brink of ecological and political disaster. Many of the peoples he has visited have a different conception of value, with lives so symbiotically and sustainably connected to their surroundings, virtually merging the two together. They provide ongoing lessons for us all.

Before They Pass Away is not meant to convey a documentary truth. The portraits in the book are Jimmy’s own artistic and creative interpretation of the people he has met. He has focused on the beauty that struck him as an outsider. He wanted to create icons. Beautiful and positive images of strong and proud people. This approach is unquestionably romantic. He hopes his esteem and admiration for the people photographed are reflected by the result.

The name chosen for this project has roused attention. ‘Before they pass away’ may give the impression that he pessimistically saw the sealed fate of those peoples he had come to meet. And maybe this is how he initially felt. But since he first published the book in 2013, his sustained and amazing interaction with the most diverse range of peoples have made him backtrack on this view. Where there are challenges, there are solutions. he has come to appreciate the pride, strength, vigour, honour and resilience of the people he asked to pose for his lense. This provides him with an unending inspiration to continue his work.

In this light, ‘before’ attains a meaning that is diametrically opposed to the fatalistic reading of doom. ‘Before’ signals a moment of opportunity, a call for action and an appeal. To decide with confidence that we value what we have and will take our support into the future.

Margeret Mead, a great social anthropologist, once said: “Having been born into a polychromatic world of cultural diversity, it is my fear that our grandchildren will awake into a monochromatic world not ever having known anything else”.

Before They // Part II

Since the beginning of 2016, Jimmy has been on 10 new journeys.  This is the start of a new book, which will be published in autumn of 2018. For this second book Jimmy plans to visit another unique 34 indigenous cultures around the globe. From the Northern reaches of Siberia with the Khanys reindeer herders, to the deep jungles of the Papua New Guinea with the Kaluli. From the Himalayas with the Sharchop in Bhutan to the last hidden outposts of Africa with the Mundari in isolated South Sudan. 

Jimmy will not only be photographing, the peoples will also be filmed, interviewed to celebrate their distinctive aesthetic cultural heritage. Therefore Before They Part II will be a journey, an investigation and a far more in-depth catalyst to an ethnographic discussion as to the lasting values and importance of these precious cultures.

Before They // Part II



Our world is changing. It’s an inevitable process and it’s advancing at a speed like never before. From a life spent traveling, Jimmy Nelson has experienced that his camera is more than just the perfect tool to make contact and build intimate and unique friendships. For years, his camera has proven to be invaluable in capturing cultural diversity. Jimmy Nelson has actively gone out to represent the indigenous cultures of the world on film.

But with every new journey he undertakes, Jimmy Nelson is finding it harder to discover cultures that are not at risk by the homogenizing forces of a globalizing world. Mankind is at the risk of losing its cultural diversity. With the steady demise of different cultures, the world’s diversity is diminishing and it becomes increasingly difficult to learn from each others’ differences.

Jimmy Nelson has established the foundation to highlight the wealth of having a world with diverse cultural heritage. Why is this important to us? UNESCO director Irina Bokova calls cultural diversity “the promise of renewal and dynamism, and an engine of innovation and development.” The traditional knowledge of indigenous societies can contribute to the planet’s modern vision on technology, science and medicine. Indigenous societies also provide outstanding examples of sustainable living.

The Jimmy Nelson Foundation tries to raise awareness on the way globalization affects our cultural heritage. We engage in fostering an appreciation for cultural diversity and aim to do so by connecting people from different cultures and bolster learning from each others’ shared knowledge.

Imaging and highlighting existing cultures as part of a culturally diverse world. Here we focus on a broad understanding of ‘arts and culture’, including creative and performance art. The aim is to bring cultures together in a way that brings about mutual appreciation.

Sharing information and enabling education about specific cultures. Here we focus on the communities that are portrayed and on audiences of Jimmy Nelson’s work. These projects can include support of existing institutions and organisations.

Establishing a base for the (continued) execution of the cultural expression. This regards working together with local governments and other stakeholders in the public domain.

The Jimmy Nelson Foundation realises that these tracks overlap. We also note that from the top to bottom, each defined goal is a little harder to achieve. We will strengthen and develop our skills, as we commit ourselves to a long term strategy of realizing celebration, education and fortification of culture.

“Having been born into a polychromatic world of cultural diversity, it is my fear that our grandchildren will awake into a monochromatic world not ever having known anything else.” Margeret Mead – social anthropologist