Tuesday, 29 July 2014

“Irreplaceable ethnographic record”?; more like commodification andexotification

Books like Jimmy Nelson's are important because they highlight the inner battle that occurs when consuming content that is simultaneously problematic and enjoyable. On the surface, this book captures breathtaking images that delight the imagination and the eyes. Yet, it is also framed within the gaze of a man who is clearly very removed from his participants and their wishes- even using the word 'Eskimo' and referring to Māori as one tribe. In this post, Tarapuhi briefly highlights two areas of this project which she argues further contradict  Nelson's claim that 'Before They Pass Away' is an "irreplaceable ethnographic record" by examining his inaccurate representation of Māori, and the issues of consent and exotification. Finally, she discusses why the perpetuation of  such superficial images, narratives and tropes of indigenous peoples is not only problematic, but dangerous. 

Image from beforetheypass.com. Awks...I don't think anyone has informed Māori that Nelsons gaze causes you to go extinct.


I would like to begin my post with an excerpt from an interview with the author of 'Before they Pass Away'-Jimmy Nelson. For me this excerpt made me think about the motivations behind his work, and the target audience for the project.

“One of the main catalysts behind “Before They Pass Away” was after an exhibition, somebody rang me and said they’d like to buy a few pictures. I went to visit them and they lived in a sort of dynasty-style mansion. The lady of the house told me:
“We’re very rich, we have more money that we’ll ever need, but we think going abroad is a bit dirty. We have four kids that we feel obliged to show that there is something out there. You make pictures of faraway places and faraway people in a way that we don’t find confronting, in a way that is also educational.”
And then she gave me a blank check and she asked me to fill the stairwell. These are the people I’m trying to attract. The masses, the MTV generation has no idea – whether rich or poor – that these people still exists in the world. And the more that I promote the book, the more I share it, the more I’m flabbergasted by how intelligent, educated and in some cases very wealthy people have no idea that this still is on the planet. So that is the statement I’m trying to make with a still of photography that is aesthetic. It’s very romantic, it’s very subjective, it’s very idealistic, but it does act as a catalyst for a greater discussion.”