JIMMY NELSON – A PHOTOGRAPHER’S STUDY OF STYLE, TECHNIQUE AND (MY OWN) MOTIVATION

Sometimes, when I’m feeling flat and that my work is becoming staid, the gods show me a photographer that inspires me to better things and draws me closer to my passion.

Jimmy Nelson – a UK based photographer who shoots indigenous cultures – is the latest of those photographers  (www.beforethey.com). As you can see, his photography of indigenous tribes is not unlike my own but he has captured his subjects differently; his style is more documentary and well planned. Lovely work.

When I stumble upon a photographer whose work I like, I ask myself three fundamental questions: What it is about his/her work that I admire? What can I learn from the photography? What does the work teach me about myself and my craft?

For your interest, here’s a summary of the answers I arrived at which, apart from crystallising my own thoughts, might be illuminating to other photographers planning to head down the same path.

What do I admire about Jimmy’s work:  Setting aside some of his photographs (I’ve screen-grabbed a couple of my favourites for this entry) and his distinctive style (indigenous groups, big landscapes, strong poses and warm, earthy post production), Jimmy has found a way to concentrate on the work about which he is most passionate. While beneath the surface I’m sure he’s paddling madly like the rest of us, on top of it, he’s wandering at least some parts of the world and producing arresting, timeless, beautiful images of indigenous cultures. Oh, and he’s selling his books for AUD$10,000 each (while I’m lucky to sell mine for AUD$25) so he’s travelling the high road.  The work is strong; some of his portraits and group shots are sublime.

What can I learn from his photography: He has planned carefully and taken the time needed to deliver the shots. He’s done the reconnaissance for the backdrops, figured out the lighting, been very selective with his talent, wardrobed his subjects immaculately and largely posed the entire setting to his own eye. And he’s used groups of people (where I’ve tended to use one, two or three). And, finally, he’s de-saturated his images creatively in post production. Most importantly though, he has taken the ample time needed to create his images (possibly days of organising for a single shot I suspect) and he’s found the resources which have allowed him to do it.

What has his work taught me about myself: While I am a professional travel and tourism photographer, shooting indigenous culture has always been my passion in photography. The opportunity to capture some unique element of a disappearing culture is easily what most excites me on assignment and a big part of why I choose to specialise in  the South Pacific. But what his photography has taught me is that I haven’t taken enough time to plan and shoot my subjects this well in a documentary style. I simply haven’t managed to step outside of the tourism photography I’m commissioned to deliver ( ie big laughs, stunning scenery and fun times etc) long enough to produce these sort of images. Can I shoot like this?  I have no doubt I can (though I may need to brush up on my artificial lighting skills a bit). Can I absorb this style and build it into something of my own? Yes, (though it will need to evolve). And if, I were to produce a body of work of this calibre throughout the Asia Pacific region (which has now become my burning desire, I might add), would it deliver the legacy I hope to produce at the end of my career? …….Absolutely!

So, here’s what I’ve resolved to do: In 2014, I will extend at least one, possibly two of my assignments at my own expense to produce work of this calibre and I will begin my trajectory to become one of the world’s top photographers of indigenous culture (nothing like a bit of blind ambition to get the project started).

In the meantime, visit  Jimmy’s web site. Top effort ….. and, clearly, inspirational.

Photography: Jimmy Nelson