This morning I was privileged to hear National Geographic Photographer, Jim Richardson, speak at the Dillon Lecture Series at Hutchinson Community College. He was wonderfully witty and funny, as well as insightful.
Richardson grew up in Kansas and still makes his home here, about 40 miles away in Lindsborg, where he has the “Small World Gallery” on Main Street.
During this morning’s lecture, which was beautifully illustrated with his photographs, Richardson focused on the theme that Kansans have a “sense of inferiority” and that they should not. He used photos to illustrate how people everywhere do the same things.
He told a story of being asked by the President of Shell Oil, “Why Kansas?” Richardson said, “I had no good answer. I balked. And I’m sorry.” He said the answer he gave was that he grew up in Kansas. And he felt that was a good enough answer, but there is more. He said it was in Kansas that he learned the secret was seeing the “extraordinary in the ordinary.” And that when he travels on assignment he’s just looking for the “commonplace in uncommon places.”
His passion has always been documentary photography. He has always wanted to capture the moments of life that tie us all together.
He showed some photos taken in the plains and pointed out that “agonies suffered in other places that are made into great novels, here are taken for granted.”
He mentioned Marci’s book, “The Kansas Guidebook,” that I wrote about in October, and said the young lady that worked for them in the gallery had found something about her hometown in there that she didn’t know. Her response was, “I didn’t know it was special.”
Richardson knows about how ordinary things are special. He spent many years documenting high school in Rossville, Kansas. Rossville is a town I’ve only been through, but it’s a small town not too far from Topeka. I used to drive through there to see my last boyfriend when he lived in nearby Silver Lake.
Richardson is also known for his years of photographing Cuba,Kansas. Some of those photographs were used in National Geographic and there’s also a book. Richardson has done work not only for National Geographic, but numerous other magazines such as Life and Sports Illustrated.
He told some wonderful stories about his experiences photographing all over the world. He recounted one story about telling a homeless man in Edinburgh, Scotland, about Kansas and the pioneer spirit and how Kansas was celebrating its 125th anniversary. He said the man looked at him like he was poor and the homeless man was rich. The man then said, “What’s it like to be from a place that’s got no history.” Richardson’s response was, “They’re building it right now.”
He talked a bit about living in the “photoshop era” and how that has changed photography. He showed a photo from Brittany of the house built between the rocks and used it to illustrate his point that while that could have been faked with photoshop, it would leave out one important point. “What would be missing is the knowledge that someone built the house in the rocks.”
He said his photography is all about trying to find the right viewpoint.
At the luncheon after the lecture, he said he does only digital photography now, that he sold all his film equipment last year. Someone asked if he took fewer or more photos on digital, and he said a few more. He mentioned that during one assignment he took about 43,000 photos on digital, and would have probably done about 1000 rolls of film, which would have been about 36,000 photos. The editing is done in stages, but at the end of the photo editing process, he goes to DC and has input into the final choices.
He also said that the captions for National Geographic photos are written by someone who has not been involved in the story up to that point. It’s another safeguard to the integrity of the story, and the reason their captions are so interesting.
My friend, Alan Montgomery, got to introduce him. Alan is now a journalism professor at HCC and they are lucky to have him. He is one of the best journalists this town has ever seen – an exceptional writer. We were both doing news at the same time years ago for different organizations so had reason to run into each other on stories occasionally. He was always very kind and generous. I was always impressed with his writing and his professionalism.
Also at the lecture was Larry Black, a local photographer, I’ve known for years. I caught this snap of them chatting afterwards. That’s Alan on the left and Larry on the right.
Let me tell you, it’s humbling to be running around with a digital point and shoot, and no where near a top end one, when you’re in the same room as a National Geographic photographer.
It was a neat morning. I ran into tons of people I know. I got to eat with Jan, and that was fun. Jeanette was emceeing the luncheon. I got the say hello to Gayla and Eileen and some others. It was an interesting morning.
After the luncheon, I popped in to say hi to Diana and Lily was there with her mom, Taylor. I hadn’t seen Lily in ages. She has grown so much.
She’s very busy these days – walking everywhere. Taylor is very busy running after her and occasionally catching her. You can see Taylor’s legs, following behind her, in pretty much all the photos.
Lily is examining the world at a fast pace. I was reminded of information about the brain and how at birth it weighs one pound. At one year, it weighs two pounds because we’re learning so much. An adult’s brain weighs only three pounds. Lily will be one year old next month.
This purse is one of her favorite things, apparently. Taylor mentioned today that she’s like her Auntie Sarah, who’s a very girly girl. Lily is also fond of jewelry. She must get that from her grandma because Diana is too.
Her hands are very busy in this next photo because if you look closely, you’ll see that her grandma has some cookies in her hand. Lily is communicating quite well that she wants some.
It was good to see her. She’s lively, and learning every moment of the day.
And… talk about the extraordinary in the ordinary – what more example could you want than a child learning. It’s common – it happens all over the world in all cultures – and yet it’s amazing.