Can it be that long? Four and a half decades ago I started my photographic career, wide-eyed and full of spunk in my first newspaper internship. Nearly three decades has been for National Geographic, stories around the world, in my own backyard, hair-pulling ordeals of creation (sometimes), delightful explorations (often), and always trying to stave off the stifling torpor of repetition. You can die a slow death taking the same pictures over and over.
So now I am going back to Scotland, back to the storied Highlands and my beloved islands, which I’ve been exploring for nearly 20 years. (I couldn’t find Edinburgh on a map the first time I went, I was that green.) I’m a lucky photographer. I’ve had several subjects in my career that I could explore in depth, dig in deep and develop a body of work, a place of personal as well as profession exploration. Scotland has been one of them. I’ve scoured the country from coast to coast and from island to island, marched with the Lonach Highlanders, and shared a rowboat with a boatload of sheep. (They stayed on the island for summer grazing; I went on to a Celtic fire festival.)
This trip will be different because I intend to make it so. Fellow travelers on the National Geographic Adventures hiking trip will be experiencing our Scottish destinations for the first time: tragic Glencoe and bustling Oban, the mysterious Fingal’s Cave and splendid Isle of Skye. All these are sites I have worked before. Worked them hard. Places where all the photographic angles come ready to mind. Places where I could easily make facile pictures that are a shadow of former triumphs. Nothing feels more defeating than knowing you repeating yourself…and doing it badly.
So on this trip I intend to do something different: I’m going to paint myself into a corner and see if I can get out.
On this trip I’m going to leave the the big Nikons (the ones with all the megapixels) behind and take my shiny new iPhone 5S. Maybe these pictures will be more “for the moment” than “for the ages.” I’m not sure what will happen. In a way it feels like a high wire act, at once a bit scary and lighthearted. The safety net of all the camera gear has been taken away, and I’m left to balance moment with seeing.
I’ll post on Instagram and here on Proof, seeking images that speak to the excitement of both exploring and reconnecting, and seeking freshness out amongst the islands of the Hebrides.
This is a moment in time when photographers are seeking new audiences in new ways, and photography is changing. The pictures are changing, too. So be it. I have a choice. I can either jump in the stream of the great flowing river of social media — or I can stand on the bank and watch it all go by.
I think I’ll jump in.
Jim Richardson is a Kansas farm kid whose father loaned him a used camera and his mother allowed him to use her kitchen as a printing darkroom. He has been photographing his rapidly expanding world ever since, often seeking out remote places and always searching for the extraordinary in the commonplace. One of his favorite locations is Scotland. Follow Jim on Twitter and Instagram.