James Lee Stanfield 1937-2023


James Stanfield aboard the Vickers Vimy bi-plane.

Veteran National Geographic Photographer James Lee Stanfield, 86, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, died on Friday, October 13, following a yearlong battle with lung cancer and kidney disease. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on September 21, 1937, he was the son of the late Harold W. Stanfield and Amanda Hoffmann Stanfield.

Born into a family of newspaper photographers in Wisconsin, Jim acquired the photography bug naturally, becoming one of the most celebrated and honored of National Geographic’s legendary photographic staff. Having covered epic stories in more than 120 countries, he was the first Geographic photographer to have a retrospective book on his career, Eye of the Beholder. The Geographic also published Inside the Vatican, a groundbreaking book about the Vatican and Pope John Paul ll, which was the Geographic’s biggest selling book of all time.

A man’s body area is measured with special lights in a research room.

Jim graduated from Custer High School in Milwaukee and then studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin and art at the Layton School of Art and Design. After a stint in the Army during the Berlin Crisis and five productive and award-winning years at the Milwaukee Journal, he joined the Geographic photography staff in 1967.

Having covered everything from rats around the world to Pope John Paul II, Genghis Khan, Windsor Castle, chocolate, and both the Greek and Roman empires and more, Jim was named Photographer of the Year by the White House News Photographers Association four times and Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) in 1985. In July 1999, the NPPA honored him with the prestigious Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement. And in 2018, he was given the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from The Photo Society.

A half-shadowed woman stands near the corner of a commune building.

Jim is survived by his devoted partner of 24 years, Deborah Ryerson of Carlisle, PA; his sister-in-law, Betty Stanfield of West Bend, WI; and many nieces, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by his beloved brothers, Harold W. Stanfield and Robert J. Stanfield.

Pope John Paul II carries Holy Communion before Mass on Holy Thursday.

Services will be held at noon on Saturday, Nov. 4, at First Presbyterian Church, On the Square in Carlisle, PA, with a visitation one hour before in the sanctuary. A celebration of life reception will be held immediately following the service.

Memorial contributions honoring Jim are encouraged to the charities and causes of your choice. Hoffman Funeral Home & Crematory, 2020 W. Trindle Rd., Carlisle, PA is assisting family with arrangements. To sign online guestbook, please visit www.HoffmanFH.com.

Jim Stanfield, on assignment at the Vatican.


About the author

RANDY OLSON’s 27 National Geographic magazine projects have taken him to many countries in Africa, the Siberian Arctic, Abu Dhabi, American Samoa, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Dubai, Guyana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kamchatka, Newfoundland, Pakistan, Palmyra, Republic of Georgia, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the South Pacific.
National Geographic Society published a book of his work in their Masters of Photography series in January 2011. Olson was the 2003 Magazine Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) competition, and was also awarded POYi’s 1992 Newspaper Photographer of the Year—one of only two photographers to win in both media in the largest photojournalism contest operating continuously since World War II. While working at The Pittsburgh Press, Olson received an Alicia Patterson Fellowship to support a seven-year project documenting a family with AIDS, and a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his story on problems with Section 8 housing. He was also awarded the Nikon Sabbatical and a grant from the National Archives to save the Pictures of the Year collection.
Melissa Farlow and Randy Olson are photojournalists in the documentary tradition. Their work has taken them to 50 countries over the past 20 years. Even though they are published in LIFE, GEO, Smithsonian and other magazines, they have primarily worked on 50 projects for the National Geographic Society. They normally work individually, but have co-produced National Geographic magazine stories on northern California, American national parks, and the Alps. They photographed the southern United States for a book by Collins Publishing and have collaborated on over 70 books by various publishers.