National Geographic photographer shares philosophies with students


By Sheila Ellis Kansas State Collegian

He took some of his first pictures as a Collegian photographer 40 years ago, and now he has become one of the most productive contemporary contributing photographers for National Geographic.

Jim Richardson spent the entire day at K-State speaking to photojournalism and agriculture classes Tuesday. In the evening, he presented a slideshow of his works from the pyramids in Africa and the Taj Mahal in India to the night-time, blind-folded riding lawn mower contest in Cuba, Kan.

“That’s the stuff of small towns,” Richardson said. “It doesn’t have to be exotic places to make interesting pictures.”

He explained his philosophy on photography through a series of photo stories.

“Photography doesn’t mean anything unless it changes people’s minds,” he said. “The meaning of the image goes straight to your heart.”

One of the photo stories he shared was his 2004 National Geographic color story on the Great Plains with a 30-year retrospective photo documentary of Cuba, which was profiled twice by CBS’ Sunday Morning, first in 1983 and again in 2004.

“I was inspired by all that time in Cuba, Kan.,” whose population at the time was 230, he said. “When you think of a city that small, you think nothing happens.”

Richardson presented his photo documentary of the farming community of Cuba through lessons he learned during his time there.

“I learned about the idea of community,” he said. “Community happens when people are together.”

Photos of different town festivals, male beauty contests and rocking chair tournaments filled the projected screen in the Flint Hills Room in the K-State Student Union.

Richardson said the goal of his Great Plains photo story was to show people who were not familiar with Kansas its beauty as well as people who drive by the Flint Hills everyday.

“I was tired of people thinking Kansas is just flat or not beautiful,” he said. “After looking at the photos, people say, ‘I drove by that everyday but nobody ever told me it was something.'”

Many of the students in attendance stayed for the entire presentation and said they found Richardson’s work interesting.

“His presentation was really engaging,” said Josh Hartman, senior in architecture. “The stories he told through photography were really intriguing.”

Richardson also shared his work on different farming communities around the world in relation to soil. He showed images of smiling farmers in Iowa holding corn to distraught farmers in Niger, whose desperate farming conditions made it difficult to grow food to feed their children.

“His presentation was very knowledgeable and enriching,” said Alex Twitchel, sophomore in fine arts. “It was really neat seeing how even though he goes around the world, he comes back here to Kansas.”

Richardson is a Kansas native who grew up on his parents’ wheat and dairy farm north of Belleville in north-central Kansas.

In 1971, he left K-State for a photography internship at the Topeka Capital-Journal. After being published in Life, Time and Sports Illustrated magazines, he began his full-time freelance career where he became most-known.

Richardson and his wife Kathy now live in Lindsborg, Kan., where they operate Small World: A Gallery of Arts and Ideas on the town’s Main Street.

His visit was sponsored by the K-State Union Programming Council and the student group Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow.

“The topics Richardson spoke on were specifically related to Kansas,” said Anna Knackstedt, UPC forums co-chair and junior in political science and international studies. “His work showing soil and pollution has a big effect on the agricultural community.”

“If there are people on the sidewalks, bikes go around them on on the grass,” she said.

However, according to K-State policies, riding bikes on any campus lawn or planted area is prohibited.

Many cyclists on campus said they feel bike regulations are not strictly enforced.

Hopkins said if students were punished for not following regulations, more people would know anf obey the rules.

Harstine said he thinks most bikers know the basic rules, like staying in the bike lanes, but do not always follow them.

“I think there should be more bike lanes, and there should be more announced rules,” he said.

Timothy Schrag, campus police officer, who is one of the officers that patrols campus by bike, said it is difficult to catch moving violations and to enforce bike regulations.

“We are short-staffed,” he said, “I am the only bike patrol during the day.”

Schrag said there have been some issues with bicyclists not following rules over the years, but bikes are not the only ones who need to be aware of their surroundings.

“There are some groups who have issues with pedestrians not watching,” he said. “Everyone needs to be careful and respectful of others.”

On-campus fines include a $15 fine for a moving regulation, a $15 fine for parking and locking bikes anywhere but bike racks and a $5 fine for not registering a bike.

Bike permits can be obtained from Parking Services in the parking garage at no cost. Schrag said it is important to have bikes registered and to know the serial number on the bike in case they are stolen or impounded.