Jim Richardson on Fair Isle, Scotland © Kathy Richardson

“I gave up on the idea of objectivity. I don’t mean I gave up on the idea of truth. I gave up on this idea that you can be intimately involved with a place and not rely on your emotions and all the complex of things you know to help you understand the place.”

Richardson first began using a camera as a youngster on his parents’ wheat and dairy farm north of Belleville in north-central Kansas. He began experimenting with his father’s second-hand box camera, photographing the world of the farmstead for display at the Republic County Fair.

Now, his combined areas of expertise include volcanoes, agriculture, rivers and aquifers, and the United Kingdom, especially the people, culture, and landscape of Scotland, his Scotland, his family’s native Cornwall, and the wider Celtic world. His work has made him a prized speaker and visual presenter around the world.

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“It hardly matters what the subject matter is; it’s your understanding of it that’s going to bring life to it.”

“You can find the depth anywhere. The trick is knowing what to look for.”

“If we find photographs compelling there is probably some underlying reason and it would behoove us to examine what we’re getting out of it. [We should not be] too deterministic about the photographic frame that we use, the style.”

On objectivity and truth

“I gave up on the idea of objectivity. I don’t mean I gave up on the idea of truth. I gave up on this idea that you can be intimately involved with a place and not rely on your emotions and all the complex of things you know to help you understand the place.”

“We have to understand both how [photography] works and how it fails, otherwise this sort of glib idea that the camera tells the truth is actually destructive if it stops us from seeking a better understanding.”

On being a photographer in the digital age

“Photography has become another language. It’s how we speak, it’s how we share our thoughts and wishes and dreams, how we share our daily life down to the most mundane levels.”

“Photographs have come down from the gallery wall and joined everybody at the water cooler.”

“We used to have gatekeepers. If Bob Gilka at National Geographic thought you were one of the great photographers of the world, that’s all you needed. If you could convince that one person, you’re in. Now, when you post on Instagram, you have to convince all of those. I’ve got 375,000 followers – I have to convince them on a one-to-one basis each time that they ought to punch the like button.”

“We need to retune how we think about it and what reality really looks like as opposed to what it looks like when we doll it up and make it interesting.”

On community

“You can probably know the names of up to about 1000 people. But beyond that, no matter what size of the city, we’re all living in communities of 300 people.”

“The real interest comes in figuring out how these places work. Invariably, that comes down to how are people there bringing meaning to their lives. That what you see in front of you is the outward expression of what is going on invisibly in their minds.”

On being a contrarian

“There was a bit of anti-social angst in a teenage kid. The photography was a way of reaching some sort of creative productivity. Without sort of giving in to everybody else’s norms. I guess you could just say it was teen rebellion carried out with the twin-lens reflex.”

“I had a true aversion to doing anything that other people would glibly think you had to do.”

“I have always been satisfied standing off by myself… I have always been comfortable not being the prime player.”

“I was going anti-documentary, anti-photojournalism, and becoming something very different from what I had anticipated being.”