Jim Richardson, a photojournalist and social documentary photographer in Lindsborg, has come a long way since being a youngster on the farm taking pictures with his father’s second-hand box camera, all the way to Scotland taking pictures for National Geographic.
Jim Richardson, a photojournalist and social documentary photographer in Lindsborg, has come a long way since being a youngster on the farm taking pictures with his father’s second-hand box camera, all the way to Scotland taking pictures for National Geographic. He recently finished a two-year project that was published in the August issue of National Geographic.
The project, called Before Stonehenge, written by Roff Smith, is an exploration of the Neolithic era, which took Richardson to the Orkney Islands in Scotland to photograph various excavated areas where ancient inhabitants thrived.
“The archeology of the Orkney Islands in Scotland has fascinated me since I first went there for National Geographic 20 years ago,” Richardson said.
The National Geographic Director of Photography, Kurt Mutchler, approached Richardson with a story about the Neolithic Age in Orkney. At the time, Mutchler sent the story to Richardson just for review and advice.
“That’s how I ended spending six weeks over the last two summers in Orkney concentrating on 5,000-year-old stone circles,” Richardson explained. “It was a wonderful assignment. I always love stories where I can immerse myself in the subject, and found that the story of the coming of agriculture during that time period, the transition in daily life, the building of great stone circles, was right down my alley.”
Orkney contains about 20 inhabited islands. These islands are home to about 22,000 people. The biggest town is Kirkwall with about 8,000 people.
“Think of it as being about the size and population of McPherson County, only with ferry boats, and you’ll get the ides,” Richardson said. “Lots of cattle and sheep, and nice people.”
Beneath layers of earth and in the center of one of an area that holds a multitude of ancient monuments in northern Scotland, was an archeological find that rivaled many classic Mediterranean sites like Acropolis in Greece. The difference and more intriguing aspect is that the Orkney discovery is 2,500 years older than those sites. The Stones of Stenness could be Britain’s most ancient stone circle, older than even Stonehenge, hence the project’s name.
Richardson always has felt a pull toward Scotland, maybe because it’s his family’s native country. Specifically they came from Cornwall, Scotland. He has done many projects in Scotland with focuses on the people, culture, landscape and even explorations of the Celtic world. This project, however, was his first archeological work. Photographing living, modern images can be difficult enough. Photographing relics and homes that haven’t been used in centuries, covered in layers of dirt and grime, produces its own set of challenges.
“Perhaps the greatest challenge was bringing these monuments to life. They have been photographed a lot before and stone monuments tend to look rather austere anyway,” Richardson said. “I wanted the houses to look lived in. I wanted to make the place look alive, so you can imagine everyday people going about there lives in these places.”
With the help of Jim Turner of Turner Photography in Lindsborg, they used lighting techniques to make the pictures of the artifacts and excavation sites look more interesting. Using various methods like utilizing mirrors, they managed to make the artifacts stand out almost as though they would pop off the page.
Though not Richardson’s longest running project, “Before Stonehenge” took plenty of time. There was so much to cover but so little time, as the archeological dig season is very short, only six weeks out of the year because of weather and environmental issues. Smith and Richardson were only able to work in Orkney about two to three weeks each season because of scheduling and availability. There also were challenges with getting around the island rather than being able to drive to any site. Richardson and Smith were at the mercy of the islands’ ferry schedules.
Richardson and his wife, Kathy, own the Small World Gallery in Lindsborg. On July 19, they had a cover party for the release of Jim’s work in National Geographic. For more information on the “Before Stonehenge” article, the gallery currently has an exhibit featuring Richardson’s work hanging in the gallery. It will be available for the public to view until Oct. 1.
“Its sounds funny, but trying to wrap your head around how people lived 5,000 years ago can be kind of a hoot,” Richardson said.