Before They Pass Away is not meant to convey a documentary truth. The portraits in the series are Nelson’s own artistic and creative interpretation of the people he has met. He has focused on the beauty he was struck by as an outsider. He wanted to create icons. Beautiful and positive images of strong and proud people. His approach is unquestionably romantic. Nelson hopes his deep admiration for these peoples is reflected in the images.
The title, Before They Pass Away, may give the impression that he pessimistically believes that the fate of these peoples is sealed. This might have been how he initially felt, but since he first published the book in 2014, his continuing relationships with these peoples has changed his mind. Where he used to see peoples under threat of extinction, he now sees pride, strength, vigor, honor and resilience. And it is this ever-growing admiration that provides an unending source of inspiration for Nelson to continue his work.
In this light, the title Before They Pass Away, attains a meaning that is diametrically opposed to fatalism. Instead, it signals a moment of opportunity and a call for action to treasure, preserve and celebrate our shared cultural heritage as humans. Before They Pass Away opens June 14th and continues until August 20th.