Randy Olson

Randy Olson is a photographer in the social-documentary tradition. He often works with his wife, Melissa Farlow, and their assignments have taken them to over 50 countries in the past 30 years. Although they are published in LIFE, GEO, Smithsonian and other magazines, they have primarily photographed projects for the National Geographic Society. They work individually, but have also 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. After teaching at the University of Missouri, they have been consistent contributors as faculty to the Missouri Photo Workshop created by the MU professor who coined the term “photojournalism.”

While working as a newspaper photographer, Olson received an Alfred Eisenstadt award for Magazine Photography and an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship to support a seven-year project documenting a family with AIDS, and a first place Robert F. Kennedy Award for a story on problems with Section 8 housing. He was also awarded the Nikon Sabbatical grant and a grant from the National Archives to save the Pictures of the Year collection.

Reaching almost a million on social media, most of his work centers around resource extraction and how that affects indigenous communities or pristine ecosystems. Randy’s 30+ National Geographic magazine projects have taken him to almost every continent. The National Geographic Society published a book of his work in a Masters of Photography series. Olson was the Magazine Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) competition, and was also awarded POYi’s 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. More recently, Randy is the recipient of the 2017 Siena International Photo Awards (SIPA) Photographer of the Year, and the 2021 Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (HIPA) International Photography Appreciation Award. SIPA and HIPA—only one consonant apart—but represent different parts of the world honoring his photography and volunteer work.

In 2011, Randy founded The Photo Society (thephotosociety.org) to provide support for, and exposure to members as the economics of print dwindles. The National Geographic photographers elected Randy to represent them on the Photographers Advisory Board (PAB) – a group that represents the photographers in contract negotiations with National Geographic. During his tenure, the PAB successfully rebuffed National Geographic’s attempt to take the photographer’s copyright away from them and The Photo Society was born as a result of the increasing need for National Geographic photographers to stand together.

When National Geographic Image Collection (NGIC) closed the agency and their archive to the outside world, making many of their most-published photographers invisible, he began resurrecting the NGIC archive within the auspices of The Photo Society. The Photo Society archive is a 501c3, funded by donations.