#MakePortraits Monday Spotlight: Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson is not about facts: he’s a romantic, an idealist, an aesthete.
— from the foreword of Before They Pass Away

Recently, I was at a birthday party for one of my son's friends & came across a remarkable book of portraits on the families coffee table. It was Jimmy Nelson's Before They Pass Away. As a lover of other cultures, an occassional adventurer to the places that fall well beyond the end of the road and as a maker of portraits, I instantly fell in love with this book.

At some point, I will own this behemoth.

A behemoth, indeed. My first impression of Before They Pass Away was its sheer size. The 16 x 24 inch book is more than 4 inches thick. It is literally a 464 page mountain of portraits. Five hundred striking images of forgotten peoples from the edges of the earth, to be exact.

This project began, however, so the forgotten would be remembered. So the unseen could come into view. And I think that's the idea that leapt off the pages most. It was not the weight of this giant book in my lap that was pressing on me, but the weight of the idea that was there in clear view on every page. In the photographer's own words, that idea was this:

I didn’t start this project anticipating that I could stop the world from changing. I purely wanted to create a visual document that reminds us and generations to come of how beautiful the human world once was.
— Jimmy Nelson

And that's why portraiture is important. That's why I am as passionate about the subject as I am, because the human world is beautiful. And it is changing right before our eyes. The people you encounter today will someday be reduced to a bullet point in a history or sociology textbook.

How will people, then, know of our world & experiences now?

We must tell them with portraits, so they can see, and stories, so they can understand. This is not a frivolous task. Wherever you are, take time. Listen. Make portraits. That's what Jimmy Nelson has taught me.

In learning more about Jimmy Nelson's work, I came across his TEDxAmsterdam. If you're into things like how this kind of project happens, what it takes to be a portraitist of this caliber, I'd highly recommend investing the 12 minutes to watch. It's an endearingly vulnerable tale of adventure, connection — connection with self & others, through photography — and the lessons the subjects of his photographs taught him along the way.

By being vulnerable, by letting go, by being fallible, you connect with people on any level.
— Jimmy Nelson

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Lather Up

Let's be honest, when the client says, "let's make a hand washing video," you don't exactly think - most. awesome. project. ever. But the subject is an important one. Annually, there are more than 2 million patients in hospitals across the United States that acquire an infection during their stay and simple hand hygiene can prevent many of those cases.

So, what's a storyteller to do? It's an interesting creative problem. Then, the client shows you this Samsung spot & says, "you think we could do something like this?" I smiled because I knew...

Most. Awesome. Project. Ever.

[vimeo 60981532 580 326]

I should point out, this is the director's cut of the film — you can see the client's official release here — and I just want to high-five a few people without whose talent this wouldn't have been possible.

Julian Daniels is the mega-stud from the Samsung film that inspired this whole thing. I still can't believe we landed him for our project. I genuinely wish that everyone with that kind of talent was equally awesome as a human.

Dr. Melanie Sulistio is not just the heroine of the film, she's a real life heroine to the cardiology patients she treats & the residents she trains. She's a shining example to the rest of us who complain there's not enough time to learn something new. Mel learned to tut (like a pro!) while healing people's hearts. She's crazy.

Kevin Shivers has done motion graphics on every film I've ever been proud of and his ability to translate the things only I can see in my head into pixels on a screen consistently amazes me.

Also, thanks to Allan Thompson & Ashlie McGill for taking a chance on me with this project. There were times in the nearly 10 and a half months from initial meeting to final release when they alone believed in the idea that this could be the most. awesome. project. ever.