Lately I came across an article on Jimmy Nelson. Those of you who don’t know this man – he’s an amazing photographer who is mainly known for his glamorous portraits of diverse ethnic groups. It’s part of his style to stage them in a very dramatic way. No matter if it concerns the clothing of the persons whose picture was taken of or the setting where he puts them into, such as the rocks giving a breathtaking view into the scenery of the valley. But even the way in which Nelson’s models move in his pictures or stand still, respectively, reflect his own unique style: Marching in step through the desert, with a proud gaze into the distance, or lined up in different positions on a tree trunk. His characters demonstrate an incredible elegance and inner strength.
However, now I just read in the article that Jimmy Nelson is strongly criticized for these particular aspects characterizing his style. Since he focuses on a sensitive topic – indigenous peoples who are partly close to extinction, diverse organizations but also members of the indigenous tribes Nelson had taken pictures of intervened and spoke out their opinions. “Before they pass away” is the name of the photographer’s series which, according to him, is an irreplaceable ethnographic record of an almost extinct world. Voices of protest, on the other hand, claim that the images have got little to do with reality but rather with Nelson’s personal imagination. To which Jimmy Nelson said the following in the Guardian:
“It’s how I see the world. I am aiming to document the variety and importance of what is left of indigenous culture. Yes, it’s idealistic. Indigenous peoples are usually portrayed as impoverished. But they have a wealth and a pride. It’s not only about material possessions. I shoot from a very personal, aesthetic point of view. Different people can interpret what they like.”
Besides Jimmy Nelson the strongest point of critique, the realization and the post-editing of the photos which are actually meant to be records and of which many people expect them to reflect as much truth as possible, also concerns another great travel photographer: Steve McCurry.
What do you think? Should travel photographers, be allowed to stage and retouch? Or should they reflect reality one-to-one, just the way it is? Should a photographer creating documentary work or dealing with such topics, respectively, cut back his own imagination and his personal ideas?