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  • Now, I've been making pictures for quite a long time,

  • and normally speaking, a picture like this, for me,

  • should be straightforward.

  • I'm in southern Ethiopia. I'm with the Daasanach.

  • There's a big family, there's a very beautiful tree,

  • and I make these pictures with this very large,

  • extremely cumbersome, very awkward technical plate film camera.

  • Does anybody know 4x5 and 10x8 sheets of film,

  • and you're setting it up, putting it on the tripod.

  • I've got the family, spent the better part of a day talking with them.

  • They sort of understand what I'm on about.

  • They think I'm a bit crazy, but that's another story.

  • And what's most important for me is the beauty and the aesthetic,

  • and that's based on the light.

  • So the light's setting on my left-hand side,

  • and there's a balance in the communication with the Daasanach,

  • the family of 30, all ages.

  • There's babies and there's grandparents,

  • I'm getting them in the tree and waiting for the light to set,

  • and it's going, going, and I've got one sheet of film left,

  • and I think, I'm okay, I'm in control, I'm in control.

  • I'm setting it up and I'm setting up, and the light's just about to go,

  • and I want it to be golden, I want it to be beautiful.

  • I want it to be hanging on the horizon so it lights these people,

  • in all the potential glory that they could be presented.

  • And it's about to go and it's about to go,

  • and I put my sheet in the camera,

  • it's all focused,

  • and all of a sudden there's a massive "whack,"

  • and I'm looking around, and in the top corner of the tree,

  • one of the girls slaps the girl next to her,

  • and the girl next to her pulls her hair, and all hell breaks loose,

  • and I'm standing there going, "But the light, the light.

  • Wait, I need the light. Stay still! Stay still!"

  • And they start screaming,

  • and then one of the men turns around and starts screaming, shouting,

  • and the whole tree collapses, not the tree, but the people in the tree.

  • They're all running around screaming, and they run back off into the village

  • in this sort of cloud of smoke, and I'm left there standing behind my tripod.

  • I've got my sheet, and the light's gone, and I can't make the picture.

  • Where have they all gone? I had no idea.

  • It took me a week, it took me a week to make the picture which you see here today,

  • and I'll tell you why. (Applause)

  • It's very, very, very simple -- I spent a week going around the village,

  • and I went to every single one: "Hello, can you meet at the tree?

  • What's your story? Who are you?"

  • And it all turned out to be about a boyfriend, for crying out loud.

  • I mean, I have teenage kids. I should know.

  • It was about a boyfriend. The girl on the top, she'd kissed the wrong boy,

  • and they'd started having a fight.

  • And there was a very, very beautiful lesson for me in that:

  • If I was going to photograph these people

  • in the dignified, respectful way that I had intended,

  • and put them on a pedestal, I had to understand them.

  • It wasn't just about turning up. It wasn't just about shaking a hand.

  • It wasn't about just saying, "I'm Jimmy, I'm a photographer."

  • I had to get to know every single one of them,

  • right down to whose boyfriend is who and who is allowed to kiss who.

  • So in the end, a week later,

  • and I was absolutely exhausted,

  • I mean on my knees going, "Please get back up in that tree.

  • It's a picture I need to make."

  • They all came back. I put them all back up in the tree.

  • I made sure the girls were in the right position,

  • and the ones that slapped, one was over there.

  • They did look at each other. If you look at it later,

  • they're staring at each other very angrily,

  • and I've got the tree and everything,

  • and then at the last minute, I go, "The goat, the goat!

  • I need something for the eye to look at. I need a white goat in the middle."

  • So I swapped all the goats around. I put the goats in.

  • But even then I got it wrong, because if you can see on the left-hand side,

  • another little boy storms off because I didn't choose his goat.

  • So the moral being I have to learn to speak Goat as well as Daasanach.

  • But anyway, the effort that goes into that picture

  • and the story that I've just related to you,

  • as you can imagine,

  • there are hundreds of other bizarre, eccentric stories

  • of hundreds of other people around the world.

  • And this was about four years ago, and I set off on a journey,

  • to be honest, a very indulgent journey.

  • I'm a real romantic. I'm an idealist, perhaps in some ways naive.

  • But I truly believe that there are people on the planet that are beautiful.

  • It's very, very simple. It's not rocket science.

  • I wanted to put these people on a pedestal.

  • I wanted to put them on a pedestal like they'd never been seen before.

  • So, I chose about 35 different groups,

  • tribes, indigenous cultures.

  • They were chosen purely because of their aesthetic,

  • and I'll talk more about that later.

  • I'm not an anthropologist, I have no technical study with the subject,

  • but I do have a very, very, very deep passion,

  • and I believe that I had to choose the most beautiful people on the planet

  • in the most beautiful environment that they lived in,

  • and put the two together and present them to you.

  • About a year ago,

  • I published the first pictures,

  • and something extraordinarily exciting happened.

  • The whole world came running,

  • and it was a bizarre experience, because everybody, from everywhere:

  • "Who are they? What are they? How many are they?

  • Where did you find them? Are they real? You faked it.

  • Tell me. Tell me. Tell me. Tell me." Millions of questions for which,

  • to be honest, I don't have the answers.

  • I really didn't have the answers,

  • and I could sort of understand, okay, they're beautiful, that was my intention,

  • but the questions that I was being fired at,

  • I could not answer them.

  • Until, it was quite amusing, about a year ago

  • somebody said, "You've been invited to do a TED Talk."

  • And I said, "Ted? Ted? Who's Ted? I haven't met Ted before."

  • He said, "No, a TED Talk." I said, "But who's Ted?

  • Do I have to talk to him or do we sit with each other on the stage?"

  • And, "No, no, the TED group. You must know about it."

  • And I said, "I've been in a teepee and in a yurt for the last five years.

  • How do I know who Ted is? Introduce me to him."

  • Anyway, to cut a long story short, he said, "We have to do a TED Talk."

  • Researched. Oh, exciting. That's great!

  • And then eventually you're going to go to TEDGlobal.

  • Even more exciting.

  • But what you need to do, you need to teach the people lessons,

  • lessons that you've learned on your travels around the world

  • with these tribes.

  • I thought, lessons, okay, well, what did I learn? Good question.

  • Three. You need three lessons, and they need to be terribly profound.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I thought, three lessons, well, I'm going to think about it.

  • (Applause)

  • So I thought long and hard, and I stood here two days ago,

  • and I had my test run, and I had my cards

  • and my clicker in my hands and my pictures were on the screen,

  • and I had my three lessons, and I started presenting them,

  • and I had this very odd out-of-body experience.

  • I sort of looked at myself standing there, going, "Oh, Jimmy,

  • this is complete loads of codswallop.

  • All these people sitting here, they've had more of these talks,

  • they've heard more lessons in their life.

  • Who are you to tell them what you've learned?

  • Who are you to guide them and who are you to show them

  • what is right, what is wrong, what these people have to say?"

  • And I had a little bit of a, it was very private,

  • a little bit of a meltdown.

  • I went back, and a little bit like the boy walking away from the tree with his goats,

  • very disgruntled, going, that didn't work,

  • It wasn't what I wanted to communicate.

  • And I thought long and hard about it, and I thought, well, the only thing

  • I can communicate is very, very basic.

  • You have to turn it all the way around.

  • There's only one person I know here, and that's me.

  • I'm still getting to know myself,

  • and it's a lifelong journey, and I probably won't have all the answers,

  • but I did learn some extraordinary things on this journey.

  • So what I'm going to do is share with you my lessons.

  • It's a very, as I explained at the beginning, very indulgent, very personal,

  • how and why I made these pictures,

  • and I leave it to you as the audience to interpret what these lessons

  • have meant to me, what they could perhaps mean to you.

  • I traveled enormously as a child.

  • I was very nomadic. It was actually very exciting.

  • All around the world,

  • and I had this feeling that I was pushed off at great speed

  • to become somebody, become that individual, Jimmy.

  • Go off into the planet, and so I ran, and I ran,

  • and my wife sometimes kids me, "Jimmy, you look a bit like Forrest Gump,"

  • but I'm, "No, it's all about something, trust me."

  • So I kept running and I kept running, and I sort of got somewhere

  • and I sort of stood there and looked around me and I thought, well,

  • where do I belong? Where do I fit?

  • What am I? Where am I from? I had no idea.

  • So I hope there aren't too many psychologists in this audience.

  • Perhaps part of this journey

  • is about me trying to find out where I belonged.

  • So whilst going, and don't worry, I didn't when I arrived with these tribes,

  • I didn't paint myself yellow and run around with these spears and loincloths.

  • But what I did find were people that belonged themselves,

  • and they inspired me, some extraordinary people,

  • and I'd like to introduce you to some heroes of mine.

  • They're the Huli.

  • Now, the Huli are some of the most extraordinarily beautiful people

  • on the planet.

  • They're proud. They live in the Papua New Guinean highlands.

  • There's not many of them left, and they're called the Huli wigmen.

  • And images like this, I mean, this is what it's all about for me.

  • And you've spent weeks and months there talking with them, getting there,

  • and I want to put them on a pedestal, and I said, "You have something

  • that many people have not seen.

  • You sit in this stunning nature."

  • And it really does look like this, and they really do look like this.

  • This is the real thing.

  • And you know why they're proud? You know why they look like this,

  • and why I broke my back literally

  • to photograph them and present them to you?

  • It's because they have these extraordinary rituals.

  • And the Huli have this ritual: When they're teenagers,

  • becoming a man, they have to shave their heads,

  • and they spend the rest of their life shaving their heads every single day,

  • and what they do with that hair,

  • they make it into a creation,

  • a creation that's a very personal creation.

  • It's their creation. It's their Huli creation.

  • So they're called the Huli wigmen.

  • That's a wig on his head.

  • It's all made out of his human hair.

  • And then they decorate that wig with the feathers of the birds of paradise,

  • and don't worry, there are many birds there.

  • There's very few people living, so nothing to get too upset about,

  • and they spend the rest of their life recreating these hats

  • and getting further and further,

  • and it's extraordinary, and there's another group,

  • they're called the Kalam, and they live in the next valley,

  • but they speak a completely different language,

  • they look completely different, and they wear a hat,

  • and it's built out of scarabs,

  • these fantastic emerald green little scarabs,

  • and sometimes there are 5,000 or 6,000 scarabs in this hat,

  • and they spend the whole of their life collecting these scarabs

  • to build these hats.

  • So the Huli inspired me in that they belong.

  • Perhaps I have to work harder at finding a ritual which matters for me

  • and going back into my past to see where I actually fit.

  • An extremely important part of this project

  • was about how I photograph these extraordinary people.

  • And it's basically beauty. I think beauty matters.

  • We spend the whole of our existence revolving around beauty:

  • beautiful places, beautiful things, and ultimately, beautiful people.

  • It's very, very, very significant.

  • I've spent all of my life analyzing what do I look like?

  • Am I perceived as beautiful?

  • Does it matter if I'm a beautiful person or not,

  • or is it purely based on my aesthetic?

  • And then when I went off, I came to a very narrow conclusion.

  • Do I have to go around the world photographing, excuse me,

  • women between the age of 25 and 30? Is that what beauty is going to be?

  • Is everything before and after that utterly irrelevant?

  • And it was only until I went on a journey,

  • a journey that was so extreme,

  • I still get shivers when I think about it.

  • I went to a part of the world, and I don't know whether any of you

  • have ever heard of Chukotka. Has anybody ever heard of Chukotka?

  • Chukotka probably is, technically, as far as one can go

  • and still be on the living planet.

  • It's 13 hours' flight from Moscow.

  • First you've got to get to Moscow, and then 13 hours' flight nonstop from Moscow.

  • And that's if you get there.

  • As you can see, some people sort of miss the runway.