Nelson studied fine art at universities in both the U.S. and Japan and has been working in photography as a medium since childhood. After returning to the U.S from Japan, Nelson went on to earn a PhD in biology – doing research in the lowland Pacific rainforest of Costa Rica and photographing the animals and landscape of that world. In 2001 Nelson helped establish an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Texas, which he helped run until 2007 when he left the university to finish a large photographic project.
Nelson now works as an independent artist and makes his home in Austin, Texas. He has worked across Latin America and his photography has taken him to most of the National Forests in the United States. He regularly hikes, kayaks, climbs or flies into areas that are difficult to access in order to get photographs. His works have been shown across the U.S. and abroad. In 2009, Nelson's photographs were featured in a show he compiled for the United States Senate, and he was recognized in a show that celebrated the influence of Ansel Adams on contemporary photography.
Nelson frequently works on large projects that have a social purpose in line with his world view. He also works in a variety of other media and gives frequent talks about the causes he supports with his artwork.
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