Photographer Jimmy Nelson is facing backlash over his portrayal of some indigenous people in his book, Before They Pass Away. The book (which is stunning to look at) portrays tribes and cultures supposedly untouched by the modern world. But some people are upset that the photos represent a stylized version of these cultures and are not a representation of how they actually appear today.
Portraying cultures as more exotic than they actually are isn't exactly something new. Edward Curtis did it some 100 years ago when he photographed the American Indian. For some critics, it's less about the stylized nature of Nelson's work and more about his glossing over of why many of the "tribes" are "passing away." Some are diminishing through cultural genocide and others though political land grabs. Some tribes are even being put into slavery or mutilated, and none of this is mentioned in the book.
For other critics like Nixiwaka Yawanawá from Acre state in Brazil, the effect of Nelson's stylized interpretation hits a little closer to home. “As a tribal person I feel offended by Jimmy Nelson’s work Before They Pass Away. It’s outrageous! We are not passing away but struggling to survive. Industrialized society is trying to destroy us in the name of ‘progress,’ but we will keep defending our lands and contributing to the protection of the planet.”
These cultures still exist, yet in the context of this book, they almost feel more like dioramas at a museum. What do you think? Does a project like this help these cultures more than it helps the photographer? Should that even matter?