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Matinee: Jim Richardson On The Visual Narrative Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

13 September 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the fiftieth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Jim Richardson On The Visual Narrative.

In this 40-minutes presentation at the first Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science in 2010, Richardson discusses his 25-year career at National Geographic magazine.

But he talks about it as a photographer. So it's an inside look at the art of crafting a visual narrative. The tens of thousands of original images that are whittled down to a dozen or so images that tell the story.

And there are stories. We'd list them here but they don't make a good list. They do make good stories, though.

Just to take one example. One of his more recent stories at the time was on soil. How do you get the dirt on soil?

You might think, this being National Geographic, that it's merely a matter of using exotic gear to capture beautiful, unusual images.

But it's not that simple. It's about the narrative. The story.

So he goes deep. Literally. Laying out the roots of prairie grass that extend nine feet below the surface.

And he goes long, traveling the globe to photograph farmers standing over cross-sections of the soil they cultivate. The variety is astonishing.

Seeds are a part of the story, too, and he travels to the great seed collections of the world, showing how the seeds must be grown at intervals to keep the supply viable.

You'll be astounded to learn how many pounds of potatoes a person consumes per day in potato-based food cultures. And just as amazed to learn that was the same amount as the Irish before the potato famine.

Gorgeously illustrated stories.

Not that there isn't some technical information imparted along the way. He shows off some very nice panoramas. And he discusses his technique for long night exposures. And, almost like a punch line, there always seems to be a guy with a flashlight in his most dramatic images. Strobes? Who needs strobes when you've got a guy from the hotel with a flashlight.

This presentation features a lot of images, which makes it our Richardson pick, but he's also pretty interesting just fielding the old Journalism 101 questions. The Topeka Library did a video interview with him in 2011 in which his personal charm shines through.

And his advice to budding photographers is worth the soil it's planted in, too.

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