Home » The ‘Art’ of Communication: Jimmy Nelson (Transcript)

The ‘Art’ of Communication: Jimmy Nelson (Transcript)

Full text of Photographer Jimmy Nelson’s talk titled “The ‘Art’ of Communication” at TEDxInstitutLeRosey conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Jimmy Nelson – Photographer

Good afternoon everybody! Everybody comfortable?

I’m going to take on a journey. It’s a very, very personal journey, but I want to sort of dispel something to begin with.

I’m going to introduce you to some pictures. These are all pictures that you’ve made and the whole world is making. I think somebody the other day told me about two and a half billion pictures have been uploaded online every day at the moment.

So essentially the whole world has become a photographer. And every now and again, people can be introduced to these Jimmy, the photographer, but in a way that’s a little bit null and void. And I think that’s also very much part of being here this afternoon with you.

Something happened to me a few years ago when I began to realize that the profession of photography had evolved and changed. And essentially I became redundant for want of a better word. 

So I started to ask a question of next- “What is next?” So what I’m going to talk to you about this afternoon is not necessarily photography, but what is next and take you on a journey of discovery. A journey of discovery about… my discovery, about who I was, and then the people I met on that journey.

But with the selfies, I’ve just shown you now, I want to introduce you to another selfie. Selfie I made it myself. Now it looks as if everything’s fine and I’m happy and I’m smiling for a camera, which I’m placing up in front of me.

But in actual fact, it’s a lie. It’s a very subjective lie… like to be honest, a lot of photography because I’m not happy at all on this particular moment. Although, I’m showing my teeth because I’m extremely cold, about – 400 C, but everything else that could have gone wrong on this moment is illustrated in this picture.

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And I wanted to remind myself of that moment. I’m lost. I’m disorientated. I’ve just mentioned I’m cold, I’m homesick, and I’m desperate to go home. But most importantly, what I’d intended to do, I’d failed… completely and utterly failed.

And very naively I’d started on this journey and gone on this journey. And I wanted to meet these people – The Satin. There are a group of about 40 nomadic herders living in Northern Mongolia. And not only did I want to meet them, I wanted to document them, but document them in a very, very special, iconic way. I wanted to put them on a pedestal.

So I sort of flew up there and I arrived there. And it was about a two week walk from where I needed to start. And I needed an interpreter. As I walked into an village and I found somebody and I found you and you were sitting at a cafe and we looked at each other and you spoke some half decent English. 

He said, ‘could you come with me to the satin?’ And you nodded and when we went, yes, but you went like this, you said “Money, money, money”.

 And I said, ”Fine. It’s okay.”

So we came to a deal and we walked, we walked for two weeks up this long, long, long Valley in the middle of winter. And we got there. And there were with The Satin. I was ready and I wanted to talk to them, but I couldn’t.

So I looked at you and you looked at me and we looked at each other and you said, “Yeah, there’s a slight problem, Jimmy.”

And I said, “Well, what do you mean there’s a problem? They’re really, I can take pictures of them now.  Just tell them why I came.”

And he looked at me and he said, “Yeah, well, I don’t know this dialect.”

I said, “What? You don’t know this dialect? We’ve spent the last two weeks on this journey. What are we doing?”

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And he said, “Yeah, yeah, but you didn’t tell me we got that valley. I thought we were going up. The other Valley, it’s a completely different dialect.”

So I said, “But how am I going to communicate with, and what about all that money I paid you to help me.”

And he said, “Yeah, but I just needed your money. I wasn’t going to tell you, we were in the wrong Valley.”

So I was completely and utterly stuck. So many years research, months of traveling, two weeks of walking to The Satin and I couldn’t talk to them. Absolutely impossible!

So for the next two weeks, I didn’t make one picture. I didn’t make one film that wasn’t one conversation with them, but I traveled. I was patient. I went every day, we’d pack up our tents and we’d travel across the mountains. They were reindeer, herders, long journeys, cold. Every night we put up the tepee.

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