‘Before They Pass Away’ Photographer Jimmy Nelson has completed an odyssey of 13 journeys to 44 countries in an effort to bring to light the beauty and fragility of shrinking communities and tribes around the world.

What inspired you to document these tribes?
Having travelled for the whole of my life and often returning to previous locations, I saw the speed with which these cultures were disappearing.

*Most memorable encounter & why?*
It was with the Kazakhs in NW Mongolia. Standing on top of a mountain at daybreak photographing the hunters on their horses – my hands froze to my camera. In my despair, I ripped them away and they started to bleed. Two of the women who had followed us up the mountain, saved me by enveloping me in their coats, rocking me like a baby and bringing back some semblance of warmth to my frozen digits. True compassion against all of their cultural taboos, as I realised afterwards.

*The photograph which was the most challenging to take?*
Dealing with the extreme cold in Chukotka NE Siberia in February was the most challenging. At -50 degrees your brain begins to freeze, let alone your fingers needed to take the pictures.

*The most embarrassing travel experience*
In Mongolia. There’s no nice way to say this – I peed my pants drinking too much vodka. The tent was subsequently trampled by eager reindeers, attracted to the salt content in my urine. So, during a blizzard, in the middle of the night there was absolute chaos followed by much laughter. An experience I will never forget.

*One luxury when you travel*
I always take lots of vitamins to keep my strength up and stay healthy.

*Something you have learnt about yourself*
An ability to relax in situations which are far beyond my control.

*Strangest experience*
To be honest this has happened on my return, after the publication of my images. Pictures of places and people who are very normal and second nature
to me but unbelievable for others.

*Is there a common thread that runs through all these tribes? *
Yes, that of their extreme family and community bonds. An intimacy which I feel we have really lost in the developed world.

*Is it the journey or the destination?*
Oh, very much the journey… it never ends…

*Where’s left to explore and why?*
Objectively – all has been explored. However. from a personal point of view, the real journey has only just begun. Why, because the natural high that is felt when all the elements that are required to make the ultimate picture align is quite extraordinary and essentially becomes addictive. I am always searching for that decisive moment…

*To learn more about Jimmy’s experiences and about the communities he has photographed, join us at the Royal Geographical Society London on February 4th, 2014. You can book your tickets here. *

Thanks for reading

Justin Wateridge

Author: Justin Wateridge