Randy Olson on Bridging Cultural Differences

“You realize you are in a very different place with a very different set of folks who have worked things out in a very different way than you have, and are actually much happier.” —Randy Olson

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Hamar tribesmen in Ethiopia prepare for a bull jumping initiation ritual.

For Randy Olson, it is the social change that results from powerful photographs that drives what he does. “You hope that if you pick away at some social issue that maybe other people will see it and they will do the same, so the cumulative effect will end up being greater than anything you could do as an individual.” Olson has completed over 30 projects for National Geographic that have taken him all over the world. He tends to document cultures that are facing issues with resources, urbanization, or population pressure.

Olson was named Magazine Photographer of the Year in 2003 in the Pictures of the Year International competition. In 1992, he was also awarded the Newspaper Photographer of the Year. He is one of only two photographers to win both titles. He now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife Melissa Farlow, who is also a contributing photographer for National Geographic. —Carolyn Van Houten, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This video portrait was produced by National Geographic magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. It is part of an ongoing series of conversations with the photographers of the magazine, exploring the power of photography and why this life of imagemaking suits them so well. Learn more about the making of the series and watch the full trailer here.

View more of Randy Olson’s work on his website.

Video Production Credits
Photographer: Randy Olson
Producers: Pamela Chen, NGM
Chad A. Stevens, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Associate Producer: Elyse Lipman, NGM
Editor: Carolyn Van Houten, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Camera and Sound: Spencer Millsap, NGM, Shannon Sanders, NGM