Monday, 1 June 2015

POV | Jimmy Nelson | A TED Talk

Many of us travel and ethno-photographic and documentary photographers have heard of Jimmy Nelson and of his photographic work.

His photographs, the publicity buzz surrounding the publication of his book and his self-promotion (albeit helped by a veritable array of PR professionals) have engendered a strong backlash from a variety of sources, whether these are from other photographers, from NGOs and the like, and environmentalists who saw it as an affront to the way of living of his subjects. Others have even gone so far as accusing Nelson of being exploitative, and have expressed strong reservations and an unease (to put it mildly) at the over-the-top PR promotions, and the self-aggrandizement tactics adopted by Jimmy Nelson and his entourage.

Another part of the equation is that it seems Jimmy Nelson managed to convince an wealthy investor to fund this project to the tune of $500,000 and his books are selling for $150 whilst the special limited editions sell for $8750.

I liked a number of his photographs that were featured on the internet, and whilst most of them are posed and pre-arranged, they do depict life ways that are disappearing quite quickly. I also admire Nelson's energy, perseverance and courage in pursuing this project. He ventured in places that are really tough to get to and to live in for the duration of his shoots. He must've endured quite a lot of difficult for that, he ought to get respect.

That said, I watched the TED talk he gave. And I must say, Nelson is no Salgado. The gist of his talk was superficial, and he worked way too hard at being sensationalistic and enthuse the audience. I also thought the choice of his group photograph (Omo Valley) and its backstory to be mundane and uninteresting. He tried hard, but he's not a charismatic raconteur and although he must have incredibly interesting stories to share, he came through as unconvincing to me.

It's a shame because it's a perceptual kind of thing. None of his critics, nor I, know whether Nelson -apart from his over-the-top PR campaigns to sell his books- has exploited his endangered photographic subjects. Knowing whether  a portion of his royalties were (and will be) used to support the very tribes he photographed, would be interesting... and would go a long way to convince his critics that he's a 'good guy'.