Richard Olsenius began his photographic career in 1966, capturing images of everyday American life. While still an intern with the Minneapolis Star, he received his first major exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, titled “High School.” The haunting black-and-white images from inner-city schools provided a stark contrast to the innocent memories most people have of their school years. His work has gone on to appear in other museums across the nation.
Olsenius was hired as a staff photographer at the Minneapolis Tribune in 1970, winning more than a hundred state and national awards for his general assignment photography and special features for the Tribune’s prestigious Sunday Picture Magazine. His work grew to encompass the rural landscapes of the West and Midwest, a theme he would return to in films, books, and calendars. His stories took him across the U.S. and to Europe and Asia, where he won the World Press Photo Award for his story on Cambodian refugees.
In 1981, Olsenius left the newspaper to pursue film and book production. In 1981 his 30-minute film, Autumn Passage, won a Bronze Medal at the New York International Film Festival. He went on to publish several books on the Midwest.
By 1986, Olsenius was concentrating much of his time on producing stories for National Geographic magazine. His assignments allowed him to further explore the American landscapes he had grown to love, as well as taking him along the Alcan Highway, Wyoming, Puget Sound, the coast of Labrador, and the Arctic’s Northwest Passage. Here he had the opportunity of traveling deep into the Arctic wilderness with Inuit hunters and research scientists. In addition, he sailed on the first American yacht to ever transit the Northwest Passage and the first yacht ever to sail the passage west to east.
In between National Geographic assignments, Olsenius won an honorable mention in cinematography from the 1989 National Educational Film Festival for his hour-long video, America’s Inland Coast, shown on PBS stations nationwide. The original music he composed for that film became the basis for his first multimedia product, Distant Shores, a four-color book of photography from the Great Lakes packaged with his original instrumental music.
With music a strong avocation from early years and an increasing influence in his work, Olsenius went on to compose music from his Arctic experiences. With the advent of CD-ROM technology, he was finally able to link his many loves—photography, filmmaking, and music compositions—into a unique multimedia experience of book, music, and CD-ROM called Arctic Odyssey, which won several national awards.
From 1995 to 1999 Olsenius worked as an illustrations editor at National Geographic and became the magazine’s producer for the launch of its Web site.
In 1999 Olsenius resigned from National Geographic and joined forces with Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame. The project revolved around Keillor’s search for the real Lake Wobegon, which according to its creator, is located in central Minnesota. Here, Olsenius returned to his roots with his 4X5 camera to put a real face on Keillor’s mythology. The story appeared in National Geographic in December 2000, one of a handful of articles in recent years to be published in black and white. A book, In Search of Lake Wobegon, was published with Keillor in the fall of 2001.
In 2003 Olsenius published a book, Dog Stories, with National Geographic and began work on another, Field Guide to Black and White Photography, also published by National Geographic in 2005.
Olsenius was an art director for the Korea 50th and WWII Memorial shows produced by the U.S. government in 2004 in Washington, D.C. He was responsible for much of the video and visual elements on the wide-screen presentations.
In 2006, Olsenius produced a video for a Venezuelan biomedical institute on the people who live in the shadow of volcanoes in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Olsenius is married and lives near the Chesapeake Bay, where he and his wife continue publishing books, music, and films that celebrate a sense of place, people and landscape.