Monday 11 November 2013

We're Not Dead Yet.

As most of you know, I've become a fan photography, whether it's learning about it, out shooting myself or looking at other peoples work. All of which I enjoy doing, thoroughly. I try to absorb as much as I can about it from anyone and everywhere. If it's interesting, I'm there.

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.

Kind regards,

J.D The Maori.


  1. Well said. There seems to be a surprising lack of criticism of Nelson's project. The photography is indeed beautiful. But the PR for the project and the assumptions of the project are appalling. About two weeks ago I wrote a review in which I state: "It may come as a surprise to the Tibetans, the Maori, and many others in the book that their cultural integrity depends on Jimmy Nelson’s photographic project." I'll link to your post to confirm that point.

    1. Here's the link:

    2. Hi Tim,

      Thank you for taking time out to read the piece I wrote. It was written with a bit of attitude and emotion almost immediately after seeing the original article. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement to say the least.

      I've also read your review and was happy to see someone else questioning Nelson's project. I'm sure there are others out there who feel the same way and have voiced their opinions on the matter, and rightfully so. It's not right, it really isn't. Especially after reading through social media sites, and seeing the vast amount of people being sucked in and captivated by something that isn't completely truthful.

      As a Maori, replying to you via the internet, and not some carrier pigeon with a message written in "traditional" ballpoint pen, thank you for your comments and reference. Much appreciated.


  2. Thanks for sharing this. I'm very disturbed by this project. It enrages me that there's little critique since it is important to fight these false accusation even if it is in the name of art.

    1. I agree with you completely Amalism. Somebody had too. I figured who better to, than somebody he's portrayed as being on the verge of passing away, lol.

      Thank you for taking the time out to read it. Much appreciated.


  3. Hi JD, It's good to read your post, I agree with you completely. Survival International has also criticised this project. See Survival's press release about it from last week:

  4. Hi JD,

    I'm interested in your perspective on the issue. Thanks for sharing. You say:

    "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."

    The photographer spent months with 35 different groups to make this project. It only took you a split second to reject all the work he did, and a few minutes (an hour?) to trash him in a blog post. I guess you were going for dramatic effect, but the conception of New Zealand that you have posited here seems unlikely to have been held by this particular very, very well traveled individual. It seems pretty unfair to assume that this non-Maori individual necessarily believes misconceptions and stereotypes about Maori because he is (I am guessing without any evidence) of white European ancestry.

    I figure you've had time to reflect by now and probably have a more nuanced view. The photographer said he plans to go back and ask the subjects themselves what they think of their photos.

    I'd like to ask (a) What do you think about that? And, (b) has your opinion changed since you wrote this? Also, (c) looking back, what was it that bothered you about the work?

    Please accept my comments in the spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood but feel free to ignore them. Looking forward to reading your reply!

    PS: Sorry if this post gets submitted twice; had some trouble logging in.

  5. Hi,
    As a black man I know how difficult it is to be labeled... In this case as someone who followed a few anthropology courses, I ask you, do you what a tribe or clan is? More importantly why was it OK to include the Himba and Aasro, even the Kazakh but NOT the Maori?
    I myself feel awkward to see black men (the Papua) dressed like that but it's not their fault that I was bullied in high school in Holland for being a "Papua" (just because some white boys saw a documentary and remembered the penis gourds only) I mean I am not a Papua but with hindsight at least they know who they are and what they are. Whereas I am a black man who as a descendant of African has to try and re-invent his own "roots". I think and I don't want to sound paternalistic but I am 45 that you should embrace your culture and be very proud of what you think your culture stands for instead of wasting your time with this white guy who may or may not have had ulterior motives.

  6. I meant as a descendant of African slaves but I think you already guessed that!