Amazing Portraits of the Most Isolated Tribes of the World


In 2009, a photographer set about a unique journey. A journey with an intent to document as many isolated civilizations and cultures as he could. Through his project, called Before They Pass Away, photographer Jimmy Nelson wanted to capture the lives and traditions of the last surviving tribes around the world. 

Jimmy wanted to create a piece of work that would remind the future generations of these societies, their distinctive lifestyles, art and traditions. Spending about two weeks with each of the 35 tribes he visited, he witnessed and became acquainted with their  time-honored traditions, joined in their rituals and discovered how the rest of the world is threatening to change their way of life forever. Speaking about his work, Jimmy says, “Most importantly, I wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time. A body of work that would be an irreplaceable ethnographic record of a fast disappearing world.”

Jimmy Nelson traveled for about 3 years and his journey took him to remote corners of  Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania, New Zealand, Mongolia, Siberia, Nepal, China, Vanuatu, Argentina, Ecuador, Namibia, India, Chukotka and Indonesia. His detailed portraits, created with a 4×5 camera, showcase jewellery, hairstyles, clothing, and cultural elements unique to each tribe. Here is a small selection of images from his journey. 


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (6) - Nenets
Nenets, Russia


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (4) - Drokpa
Drokpa, India/Pakistan


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (5) - Maori
Maori, New Zealand


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (3) - Maori
Maori, New Zealand


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (7) - Kazakhs
Kazakhs, Mongolia


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (8) - Himba
Himba, Namibia


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (2) - Tibetans
Tibetans, Tibet


Jimmy Nelson - Before They Pass Away (1) - Ladakhi
Ladakhi, Himalaya – Jammu & Kashmir

This article features just a small selection of photographs from Jimmy's travels. You can purchase his book, Before They Pass Away, published by teNeues, to see 500 of his best photographs in print. You can also stay updated about this project through Jimmy Nelson's Facebook page. 

Before They Pass Away, by Jimmy Nelson
Before They Pass Away, by Jimmy Nelson

For the book: © Before They Pass Away by Jimmy Nelson, published by teNeues, € 128, also available as Collector’s Edition XXL –
For the images: Photo © Jimmy Nelson Pictures BV,

About Author

Ritesh has been photographing since 2010 and his photographic interests have varied from nature and landscapes to street photography. You can see his photography on Flickr or on his website.

These are beautiful. I only have one question. I have spent quite a bit of time in Tibet and the people in the “Tibetan” picture do not look like any Tibetans I have ever seen — a reaction confirmed by several Tibetan friends. Even the robes are different. It is a lovely photograph but where was it taken?

Hi, Anne. Thanks for your comment! You can see Jimmy’s photographs from Tibet here, including the one shown in the post above: It has information on the photo but doesn’t mention where exactly it was photographed. Cheers!

My thanks to Jimmy are most sincerely and richly deserved. I can not thank him enough, because after seeing these portraits, my heart now speaks a different language about photography.

I started viewing this page thinking that perhaps I might see some images of inidividuals who are isolated from the rest of humanity. Instead I find photos of people, some from remote and some from well-populated areas.

Where are the photos of the reclusive Amazonian tribes who eschew all contact with outsiders? Those people are truly isolated. It would be a major coup to photograph them!

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