For me, large format picture books have always been a luxury, a luxury that endures time.
I purchased a lot of books in 2013, and since the gift giving season is upon us, I wanted to share the one book that I would recommend as the perfect gift for yourself, or others who enjoy visual culture and armchair travels – Before They Pass Away.
In his monumental book, British photographer Jimmy Nelson shares his remarkable images of remarkable people and remarkable places in remote corners of our world that are very clearly ‘off the grid’.
To insure the richest possible images, Nelson traveled to 35 remote areas of the world with his 50 year-old large format studio camera; a challenging and crazy idea perhaps, but the images in the book attest to the value of his approach. I am not sure if there is any actual correlation between the weight of the book (12 pounds) and the weight of his camera equipment – but I am reminded of the commitment to carrying his camera equipment to remote places around the world as I carry the book just across the room! Every page of the large format book takes advantage of the incredible photographs. Nelson’s countless portraits of people are intimate and personal, documenting and revealing rituals, garb, jewelry and ornamentation that could not be more different than my own experience; I feel enriched just looking at them.
Nelson visited some of the least known, and most imperiled tribal peoples, to capture their raw beauty not as an anthropologist, but as a photographer. He feels a great urgency to document these distinct people with unique traditions and beliefs before they vanish, or are absorbed into nearby cultures.
It is humbling to see the dramatic landscapes and in extreme climates in two, and some cases three-page spreads, where these people live in close harmony with nature. Their’s is not some form of eco-tourism, rather it is their life, and quite remarkably their traditional lives seem in tact – not yet muddled or destroyed by ‘progress’.
Some people think that the best gifts are ones that people would never purchase for themselves, and I would add that expanding someone’s world and library is an immeasurable gift. If I didn’t already own this book, it would have been the one I most wanted this holiday season.