Having gained international recognition and numerous awards during a decade spent as a documentary photographer working in some of the most conflict torn areas of the world, Zed Nelson's recent work embraces a more considered, conceptual approach to reflect on contemporary social issues.
His seminal project Gun Nation - a disturbing reflection on America's deadly love affair with the gun - is one of Nelson's best-known projects to date. Completed over three years, the work was awarded five major international photography prizes and published as a book.
Nelson's most recent work and second book, Love Me, reflects on the cultural and commercial forces that drive a global obsession with youth and beauty. The project explores how a new form of globalization is taking place, where an increasingly narrow Western beauty ideal is being exported around the world like a crude universal brand.
The project spans five years, and includes work made in 17 countries across five continents. The book (Love Me, published by Contrasto) has been short-listed for the Leica European Publishers Award for Photography.
Nelson's previous awards include the Visa d'Or at the International Festival of Photojournalism, France; First Prize in World Press Photo Competition; and the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, USA.
Nelson's work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Britain, and is in the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Nelson has had solo shows in London, Stockholm and New York.
"I have lived in London all of my life, but I was born in Uganda, East Africa, so I always feel like a bit of a cheat when I say I am a Londoner. But from the age of three, London has been my home, and it's the city where my parents come from, so I guess that qualifies me. I went to a forward-thinking experimental primary school in East London that encouraged art and independent thought, until my parents, as 70's hippies, plucked me out of school and took me and my sister on a one-year trip to India, traveling overland from Britain in a diesel truck. When we returned I had the misfortune of ending up at an extremely rough comprehensive school. I found out years later it had the worst academic record of any school in the capital. It was set on a concrete landscape with not a blade of grass in sight. The school was encircled by housing estates and chain-link fences. It was not a place of learning, but more of survival. Over the next few years I pierced my ears, shaved my head into a mohican, got a tattoo, was arrested for smoking dope, took acid in Abney Park cemetery, and buzzed around the streets in a motorbike gang. Most of the time it was harmless fun, but it turned dark. One friend was murdered in a squat, another badly injured in a motorbike accident, and another sent to jail for GBH after a youthful fight got out of hand. Basically, I was the product of a bad inner city education, with the friends that go with it. At the age of 18, photography gave me a passport back to civilization, and the minute I started college, I remembered who I was. I have lived in London ever since, and I like to think my varied experience of growing up here has equipped me with tools that have proved useful as photographer."