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ELY— Minnesota native and long-time Ely area resident Jim Brandenburg has received no shortage of top awards in his more than half a century as a photographer. But the Lifetime Achievement …
ELY— Minnesota native and long-time Ely area resident Jim Brandenburg has received no shortage of top awards in his more than half a century as a photographer. But the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Brandenburg by National Geographic’s Photo Society earlier this year is probably the most prestigious.
Only five other individuals have ever received the coveted honor, which is determined by the members of the Photo Society, an organization comprised of the approximately 200 photographers who have produced major assignments for National Geographic.
“I have been so very fortunate over the years to have received some precious and treasured awards around the world, but this one is unique for me because it is from my peers - some of the finest photographic talent in the world,” said Brandenburg in a statement issued this past week. The award was presented in late January, but Brandenburg was unable to attend the ceremony due to other commitments.
Brandenburg’s photography career began at an early age in his hometown of Luverne, in far southwestern Minnesota, where he developed an eye for capturing the beauty of open spaces. He began working for National Geographic almost 50 years ago, helping produce a television production, called “Strange Creatures of the Night,” which aired on CBS during primetime in the pre-cable era. He began working as one of the magazine’s photographers in 1978 after that and shot more than 20 major assignments during his years there. His work ranged from portrayals of the tallgrass prairies to the high Arctic, to Africa. His stunning portrayal of Arctic wolves on Ellesmere Island, published in two separate articles in 1987 and 1988, won him the fame that has followed him ever since. While his work took him around the world in his early years with the magazine, he remained closer to home in more recent times, focusing his lens on the landscape he had come to love best, the northeastern Minnesota canoe country.
His final three photo essays for National Geographic, titled North Woods Journal (1997), Boundary Waters (2003), and 93 Days of Spring (April 2016), were all shot near his home east of Ely.
Brandenburg said the award came as a surprise given that he has been engaged in other work in recent years. “My first response was disbelief because as of late I have been mostly absent from that exceptional ‘family’ that I grew up with for fifty years.”
More recently, Brandenburg has been working as a filmmaker. He’s currently working on two projects in Europe, which prevented him from accepting his most recent award in person. Brandenburg said he is deeply immersed in his film work, which he said are the largest and most complex projects of his career. He is currently working with a prominent French film production company on a film about his life in nature and is producing a second film that he created, wrote, and is currently producing in Italy with a film crew from the United Kingdom.
“I will share more about these rewarding yet daunting productions at a later date,” he said.
For now, Brandenburg said he is back in Minnesota, “feeling extremely honored and a bit breathless contemplating it all.” He said he was especially grateful for his family and friends who have helped him along the way. “This is not possible without that kind of support,” he said.
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