Villager Jim, man of mystery

FA6 Round RobinWhen it comes to being social media savvy Villager Jim has to be up there in the top ten.

Few people know the real name of the Derbyshire photographer as he likes to remain anonymous and mysterious, but he has more than 28,000 likes on facebook and millions have viewed his picture posts and quirky comments since he set up the page at the beginning of the year.

One recent photograph of his three labradors, Dilly, Bumble and Barnaby, asleep after a walk has been shared 317 times and 3,320 people have clicked the like button.

“It is quite addictive,” says Jim who can hardly tear himself away from the computer screen as he talks to me in his idyllic cottage in Foolow in the heart of the Peak District.

“I find myself checking all of the time to see what people are looking at,” he says somewhat apologetically as his eyes glance right.

With that sort of following anyone would be daft not to make the most of it  and Jim has certainly clicked on to the fact that he can now make his passion for photography pay as a successful cottage industry.

“You have to grab hold of opportunities like this. They don’t come along very often and I have been amazed at the response to my work.”

He and his wife (known as Villager Jo) have now developed the brand into an incredible money-spinner.

As the online likes for his photographs snowballed so did requests for copies from his followers and he has sold thousands of prints, greetings cards, posters, notebooks, calendars and even a range of homeware bearing his work including cups, tablemats and cushions. If you see a cute picture of an animal in your national newspaper there’s a good chance it will be one of Jim’s as they just can’t resist them.

His charming studio in the garden complete with its own woodburning stove was once his artistic escape – now the walls are lined with box after box of stationery and it is the hub of the VJ operation.

The Duke of Devonshire has given the photographer access to private areas of the estate to take his pictures and the icing on the cake was when BBC TV’s Countryfile phoned and asked if they could come and film from his garden.

The secret to his success, he says, lies in the fact that each of his pictures tells a story. He doesn’t simply put a gallery of landscape shots of the Peak District on his site. His pictures all have characters with a tale. He gives the birds and animals names and shares snippets of their lives with his followers with each posting.

“I seem to have hit a nerve with this and created something people love and come back to time after time. Others may do landscape photography or street photography but what I do is country lane photography.

“All my pictures are taken around here and there is such a variety of landscapes. The drystone walls all around us are magnets for wildlife. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t see something and I am out at dawn every day. That’s when you see wildlife others miss.”

Jim started taking pictures about seven years ago when the couple and their two children moved out of Sheffield to the countryside.

“There were rabbits running all over the garden and I started taking photographs of them and the other wildlife. I made a book of the pictures and took it to the local pub.

“People liked the pictures and when they asked who took them the landlord would point me out. It got to the stage where I couldn’t enjoy a quiet pint so I asked him to stop and I came up with the idea of Villager Jim as a name so I could remain anonymous.

“I had no idea how it would take off then but it has evolved in this way because I have made it my passion.

“Now I just want to grow the following and to know that people are enjoying my images. For me that is what it is all about – just seeing the number of people who are getting enjoyment from what I do.”

Go to http://www.villagerjimshop.com to buy his work and follow him on facebook to see his posts.