A multiple national award-winner, eulogised by the Duke of Devonshire and his pictures viewed hundreds of millions times online - yet nobody is quite sure who Villager Jim is. 

Enigmatic is an unusual way to describe a photographer who has had one of his pictures viewed over 100 million times online.

It’s certainly a strange way to refer to someone who has won multiple national awards, received praise from internationally-renowned brands such as Barbor and Nikon, and amassed a worldwide fanbase which includes over 400,000 followers on Facebook.

So just how can someone with such a high profile and public presence be considered an enigma?

Great British Life: After the Walk - the shot that changed my life. This picture of Jim's dog, Dilly, has been viewed over 100, million times online After the Walk - the shot that changed my life. This picture of Jim's dog, Dilly, has been viewed over 100, million times online (Image: Villager Jim)

Welcome to the world of Villager Jim, the Foolow-based photographer dubbed by the late BBC presenter Harry Gration as the ‘Banksy of the Photography world’.

‘It all started in my local pub,’ laughs Jim, who has been on an incredible journey of discovery and growth since moving to the Peak District in 2008.

‘Right at the beginning I made two books featuring my photography, one of those ‘make-your-own-book’ things where they offer printing services.

‘They’re about £100 each but I decided to give one to the landlord of the local pub as he was a good pal of mine, so people could sit, enjoy a pint, and have a look at it.

‘He was constantly pointing me out when people were reading it and I jokingly said “Jonny, you’ve got to stop doing this” so I decided to make up a name, Villager Jim, and that’s how it all started.’

Great British Life: Samantha's StruggleSamantha's Struggle (Image: Villager Jim)

While the true identity of Villager Jim remains a closely guarded secret, much to the interest of both national and local media, he wouldn’t have it any other way – although he admits to once letting his guard down.

‘I’m just Jim but it’s a lovely feeling having anonymity and I am so glad I did it,’ he says.

‘I’m not interested in any degree of fame. The more it all grew, the happier I was that I was behind the scenes, the other side of the lens. I want my pictures to do the talking, not me.’

‘However, I have been filmed by Countryfile,’ he reveals. ‘That was kind of weird as I like being anonymous but when the BBC contact you to ask if Countryfile can spend the day filming you, it’s hard to say no!’

So just what is Villager Jim’s story and who is the real man behind the ‘Banksy of the Photography world’?

Now celebrated far and wide for his stunning nature-focused photographs, his journey has not been a straightforward, or typical, one by any means.

‘Before I did this I lived in Sheffield where I ran a website for the Peak District as well as a small software company selling ecommerce software, well before the days of being able to manage a website easily,’ he reveals.

Great British Life: Shorty and his Beautiful Eyes Shorty and his Beautiful Eyes (Image: Villager Jim)

‘From there, we built a website using our own software for the Peak District and that went really big. Running the business got to a level where it was very stressful and I was employing over 20 people.

‘It got to the stage where I would be worrying every month about whether I had enough money to pay the staff and I realised I was becoming unhappier and unhappier; then the illness came along.’

It was this illness which ultimately led to Jim’s Road to Damascus moment, as he explains.

‘I was really quite poorly and that period of illness changed my life, it completely refocused my mind’ he says.

‘I had always enjoyed photography but only at a very basic level. When I was bedbound, all I kept thinking was “if I get out of this I’m going to do what I want to do”.

‘Fantastically they found a medication for this particular nerve illness and within 12 weeks I was back healthy again and I kept my promise to myself.’

And so began a love affair with the Peak District, a place Jim regards as his ‘favourite in the world.’ It also heralded in, through various moments of serendipity, a new and exhilarating phase of his life.

Great British Life: Hungry SwallowsHungry Swallows (Image: Villager Jim)

‘I used to come out to the Peak District, but driving from Sheffield to Hathersage was basically the extent of my knowledge of the Peak, which makes me smile now. I love Sheffield, but I wouldn’t leave the Peak District now if you paid me all the money in the world.

‘The morning after we moved to Grindleford I looked out into the garden and there was a rabbit sat there. As a city person, that was quite something. In that moment I thought, it’s time to get a camera.

‘Some time later, a lady came to take pictures of the family. We had a lovely day and she took some amazing photos. When we got them I thought, these are fantastic, I wonder if I could be as good as this? Could I create my own little business?

‘I then moved to the village I live in now, Foolow. It’s such a lovely place and it got under my skin and my journey truly started. I have been riding the crest of a wave ever since.

‘A couple of years ago I contacted the lady who had photographed us in Grindleford to thank her for inspiring me to get a camera and start this whole thing; she couldn’t believe I was Villager Jim! It was a wonderful feeling to connect with her again.’

Great British Life: The Tiny Tiny Squirrel The Tiny Tiny Squirrel (Image: Villager Jim)

What started as a passion for the Peak District and photography has grown rapidly and Jim is now arguably one of the most recognised wildlife photographers in the country – even if you would have no idea who he is if you bumped into him!

So how much has been by chance and how much by design?

‘I winged it!’ he laughs. ‘I literally had no idea or plan but luckily I had run a number of businesses and knew the concept of what you need to build a small business.

‘I had lots of people commenting on how lovely my photos were and then I took a picture of my dog, Dilly, which is the famous picture, I guess. She’s kind of the one who started the whole thing going.

‘Inwardly, I didn’t have a strategy I just knew it would grow on social media, which back then was almost in its infancy.

Great British Life: Dear, Dear, Dear Dear, Dear, Dear (Image: Villager Jim)

‘As it grew, we realised there was a real following developing, which could potentially be our own high street and that’s what it turned into.’

Fast forward and the online Villager Jim Shop has exploded – with over 400,000 items dispatched to date, ranging from luxury throws, garden accessories, canvasses, homeware and, of course, plenty of doggie-based products, such is Jim’s love for all things dogs!

A proud moment came when Shopify, a piece of software used for Jim’s shop, presented the business with an award in 2021- a beautiful silver shopping bag which reads ‘Congratulations Villager Jim for 100,000 orders.’

Having moved to the Peak District to live the life he had promised himself when bedbound, such success would have been hard to envisage. So, does it ever feel too much?

‘I’ve always tried to be a very positive person, I love what I do,’ Jim replies.

‘When out doing photography I love meeting people who are doing the same thing. You get to know a lot of lovely people, all with the same passion.

Great British Life: Barny in the Christmas Snow Barny in the Christmas Snow (Image: Villager Jim)

‘I get so many emails, such as from people who are disabled and can’t get out much, and they say I am their window to the world. I probably get around 20 emails a week of that nature and you realise what an impact you’re having. It’s an amazing feeling.

‘My lifestyle is the same every day. I work seven days a week but if someone told you your job would be going out each day into beautiful countryside and watching the sun rise as a barn owl goes past, well, that’s not really work is it?

‘But then I will come back after three or four hours out and my normal day starts with “have we got enough stock of that?”, “there’s a new product we need to do” so it can be quite intense but going out in the morning for three hours is wonderful, so I’m keeping to the same principles of when I started.’

Jim’s anonymity does not, of course, extend to his family and business partners and he is keen to stress their importance.

‘The whole business is run by two families, myself and my wife, Jo, and Fiona and Darren Cox, who run the day-to-day business, the warehouse and everything.

‘My daughter Henrietta runs the online shop and Instagram account. It’s very much a family business,’ he reveals.

‘Before the business really took off I was selling prints and canvases and all the stuff a photographer may sell.

Great British Life: The Horse and the Pink Dawn The Horse and the Pink Dawn (Image: Villager Jim)

‘My now business partners, Fiona and Darren, called one day and asked if I would be interested in putting my imagery on the back of mobile phone covers, which was a big thing back then.

‘I had a chinwag with Fiona and really liked her, she was a bubbly and enthusiastic person, and it transpired she had 22 Highland cows – instantly I thought, she’s my kind of person!

‘From there, the relationship grew and a couple of years later we ended up partnering up and within the business we incorporated a printing element, as that was an area of expertise for her.

‘We also bought more and more equipment to the point of buying a half-a-million-pound steel laser cutter, which is about the size of a caravan!

‘But it’s all grown step by step. When you take the plunge and buy these machines you’re conscious this is real money. Are we doing the right thing? But those machines make new products, which then sell and help buy other machines.’

For all of Villager Jim’s commercial successes, all paths lead back to something very simple – one man out at dawn with his camera waiting for what nature has in store, something he treasures as much now as he ever has.

Great British Life: It's a Hard Life It's a Hard Life (Image: Villager Jim)

‘I see every single sunrise every day but it’s never the same,’ he suggests. ‘All you need is that one moment of magic and you don’t know what it will be or when it will present itself.

‘The Ascent of Stag picture I took with six stags in a row, for example, I could never have planned for that. It did about £250,000 in sales, so that was a major moment but in essence, it was born out of me being there, in nature, and by chance capturing this stunning sight.

‘I equate it to being a fisherman. You can wait all day long waiting for that little float to bob down but you’re never bored because you never know when that moment is coming, or what will appear.

‘Maybe I have a bit of a skill in identifying a moment, seizing it and creating a story around it. It has to all feel instantaneous.

‘There’s a level of warmth in the imagery. For some reason I am able to compose a picture well and it’s not necessarily the quality as there are a lot of photographers with much more skill than me.

Great British Life: Dangerous Stare Dangerous Stare (Image: Villager Jim)

‘I guess it’s about capturing that moment and creating something that makes someone smile or feel good - and that all happens in a millisecond.’

‘We are all indeed enjoying your efforts and are very lucky to live in such a picturesque part of the world. Villager Jim, you have captured it beautifully,’ the Duke of Devonshire has remarked in the past.

And for the man from Sheffield who moved to the Peak District to discover a new way of living, capturing it is what really matters.

‘I have a good friend, Alan, who is a passionate photographer and he comes out with me at the weekends and brings me sausage rolls and we can talk for hours on photography, it’s the most fabulous hobby,’ concludes Jim.

Great British Life: Happy Memories Happy Memories (Image: Villager Jim)

‘You’re out before everyone else and your time is the animals’ time. It’s the time to see everything, and people wouldn’t believe what’s out there.

‘I’ve always felt this is a bit like a surfboard ride. While this carries on, it’s great. I’m not someone who makes projections, we’re a small, busy business and I don’t feel corporate.

‘I tell myself to remember every second of it because it’s the building of it that brings so much joy and pleasure.'