Recently, I came across an article about photographer, Jimmy Nelson, which I shared and posted to my wall on Facebook. According to him, I'm going to pass away soon. I really wish I knew about things like extinction sooner. That's kind of important.
Jimmy Nelson: Before They Pass Away.
This seemed like an amazingly interesting idea when I first saw it and decided to click on the link, read into it and look at the photos. Scrolling through the various shots, I was blown away by Jimmy Nelson's work. I kept scrolling away.
"Asaro, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea... Wow, that looks amazing!"
"Himba, Namibia... Shit, that looks insane too!"
"Kazakh, Mongolia... Mind blown!"
I was inspired, I was intrigued and captivated. A lot of my own thoughts were coming at me thick and fast, thinking about these people and their tribes. I thought to myself that it was an interesting topic to document. Who wouldn't want to see these sorts of images, right?!
So I kept scrolling, hungry to see the rest of the tribes that had been photographed, and then it hit me.
"Maori, New Zealand.... What the fuck??!!"
I stopped scrolling, I stopped looking. My demeanor changed in an instant. I was confused, I was gob-smacked and then I was angry. The entire concept was utter bullshit in my mind from that point on! Why, I hear you ask? Because I'm Maori. That's why!
My initial thoughts were, why is he calling us a "tribe", and if he really cared, why does it read New Zealand, with no mention of Aotearoa? You are, after all, taking photos of Maori's. Seems logical to embrace the language too. I don't know, maybe I'm nit picking.
It really did get on my nerves though, and had me wondering just how much of this was accurate. Is this man telling the world a bunch of lies, in order to sell a book? Are there people from some of the other featured tribes, looking at this thinking the same as I was? Who knows... I can only speak on what I know, but how much of these people and their tribes are actually, as it was so eloquently put, about to "Pass away."
It's ridiculous to think someone has gone out of their way to visit "remote tribes" and its people, to tell a story that might not be factually true. Because the impression given is that they're the last of a dying breed. As if they're an endangered species that need to be seen, shared and documented, "Before They Pass Away."
I'm sorry, but that's just fucked up. That's misleading to anyone who chose to buy into this whole idea. You almost sucked me in too, Jimmy Nelson, but I guess you didn't think a Maori would read about this because we live in such a "remote" part of the world. New Zealand probably doesn't even have the internet, right?
It must've been a real eye opener, as an outsider looking in, when you arrived on the shores of New Zealand, being greeted by a native customs officer, wearing actual clothes and speaking to you in English, asking if you had anything to declare. It was probably a little different, from a man in a grass skirt waving a spear with tattoos on his face that you had envisioned on your arrival.
Perhaps it was the lovely car ride to shoot locations after a quick bite to eat at McDonald's, filling up the petrol tank and weaving your way through the rough and rugged terrain, commonly referred to as....streets.
You may have spoken to Maori's before you even reached your destinations, probably without even knowing it. They might have Ipods, own a smartphone, wear caps and t-shirts, and even use the internet, like, for example.... Me?
|I'm Maori. Can I be in the book too? I'm on the brink of extinction after all.|
The truth is, I could go on and on about this, but I'm not. This is not about calling your photographic skills into question. They speak for themselves. Clearly, the man is very skilled and takes a great picture. Nor do I think this is a bad idea as a project. I'm sure the intention was a good one, BUT...
Your title for the body of work is hugely misleading and the impression people will get is false. In fact, Statistics tend to suggest otherwise, in regards to the Maori people of Aotearoa, but hey, I'm not here to crunch the numbers with anybody. I'm simply saying that Maori people are not part of a dying breed and we don't need to be portrayed as such, for a book.
We're alive and well and will be for many, MANY years to come. The language is safe and in good hands. The culture as a whole, again, it's safe and in good hands and will continue to grow and be around for generations to come.
Jimmy Nelson, you may have been trying educate people and say 'hey, look at these amazing people, in this amazing place, and how great their culture is, you should check it out', but that's not the understanding or impression I took from this. You take good photos, there's no doubt about that, but I believe the premise for your book is just plain wrong.
I'm telling you here and now, that we're far from passing away.
J.D The Maori.