Prison guards and child, Juba Prison, South Sudan © Zed Nelson

Zed Nelson goes down as one of my fave photographers of 2012. It’s not like he’s suddenly emerged though – he’s consistently produced thoughtful and cohesive series in recent years. It’s just that many of his bodies of work have fallen on my eyeballs and congealed nicely, for me, this year. Big fan.

I especially like his photographs from the Rio Grande (U.S./Mexico border). I recommend also Nelson’s work from Israel, the London Olympics and of trades in Britain that are slowly disappearing.

The image above is from his series South Sudan which features some solid portraits. For 50+ years Sudan was in civil war. In July 2011, a peace agreement secured independence for South Sudan – the world’s 201st and newest nation state. Nelson photographs the still-learning “nation makers.” The work is cautiously optimistic about the capacity of people to create positive change. The variety of subjects reminds us that peace is collaborative and man-made … and woman-made.


Problems still exist for South Sudan. It must wean of its economic reliance on oil, which accounts for 95% of tax income for the region. Oil will run out in 25 years. The South must maintain healthy diplomacy with Khartoum in the north, too. Worrying reports of violence in displacements camps – particularly against women and children – have surfaced recently. South Sudan has some way to go, but it has come a long way. And photographers have covered the journey. Refugee camps and food crises were covered by John Stanmeyer and Jenn Warren. Tim Freccia made portrats that I can’t make my mind up about, but the most recent and thorough coverage is that by Pete Muller who has been living in South Sudan and documenting the elections and transition to independence since 2009.