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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Meet the Photographer: Russel James

 

Russel James

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Over the past decade photographer Russell James images have become synonymous with provocative, unique perspectives of many of the most prominent women of our time in the worlds of entertainment, fashion and beauty. His works have appeared in leading publications such as Vanity Fair, W, American Photo and Sports Illustrated, and have been published in several fine art books by world leading art-book publisher teNeues Publications, including the three-hundred page retrospective Russell James (2009) and his sequel V2 (2010). In August of 2007 Russell was awarded the Hasselblad Masters Award, and in 2009 Russell joined the prestigious ranks of Irving Penn and Helmut Newton as a resident artist of Camera Work, the worlds leading gallery for contemporary photography and vintage master works. In September 2010 a series of James images was inducted in to the fashion museum tour along side such greats as Richard Avedon, William Klein, Peter Lindberg and many other master photographers of our time.

Russells diverse photographic achievements range from exhibiting for brands such as Hermes in association with Guggenheim to breakthrough advertising campaigns for global brands, such as Rolex, Victorias Secret and Revlon, to emotional portraits of many of the worlds leading celebrities, musicians and supermodels, such as Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry, Faith Hill, Barbara Streisand and a host of others. He has been the subject of solo photographic exhibitions in New York, Berlin, Sydney and Knokke (Belgium).

Two of the Projects Indigenous Australian Artists Now Performing on Broadway with Hugh Jackman.

Limited Editions Exhibition at CATM CHELSEA Gallery

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NOMAD TWO WORLDS, the sweeping, multi-media collaborative art project conceived by contemporary art and fashion photographer Russell James, returns to New York with two of its Indigenous Australian artists appearing in a special Australia segment of Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway, and a Limited Editions Exhibition opening at CATM CHELSEA Gallery. The exhibition focuses on the works of Nathan Mundraby and Clifton Bieundurry, the two artists performing alongside Jackman, runs from December 8, 2011 to January 8, 2012 and benefits the Nomad Two Worlds Foundation. Jackman and Donna Karan co-hosted the original star-studded launch of Nomad Two Worlds in New York in January 2009.

Inspired in 2008 by the Prime Minister of Australias Apology to its Indigenous people for their "profound grief, suffering and loss caused by past governments culturally destructive policies and actions, Australian-born James set out to create a collection of truly collaborative art, music and film with Indigenous Australian artists. He hoped that Nomad Two Worlds would become what it is today a powerful expression of partnership and reconciliation through art across deep cultural divides.

Every picture in the collection tells part of a storyof the clash of ancient civilizations with the modern world, said James. Whether its a person, the ocean, a rock each photo I take represents something I have seen in the subject, thought about or learned because of it. And each collaborating artists creative contribution furthers that story.

Following the success with Australian artists, James began working with Native American and Haitian artists to include other disadvantaged cultures. This year he established the Nomad Two Worlds Foundation to support Indigenous and marginalized communities, raise awareness for the importance of cultural preservation and create opportunities for artists like Mundraby and Bieundurrys to appear on Broadway.

At the center of Nomad Two Worlds is a stunning collection of James photographs of breathtaking landscapes and some of the worlds most beautiful and interesting people including Heidi Klum, Jackman and a bevy of Victorias Secret model friends like Adriana Lima, Candice Swanepoel and Miranda Kerr. The photographs, printed out on canvas, are then embellished with acrylic art reflecting traditional, cultural stories from the Indigenous artists point of view that further the narrative and the intent behind James photographs. Many of the stories told in the overlay art can be sung painting and singing are often the way culture, tradition and the story of family are handed down from generation to generation.

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Is the goal consistent with each new collaboration for Nomad: Two Worlds?

The first journey is the one of understanding from a local perspective and what does culture mean to that region from as many authentic sources as possible. The second part is to take the completed photographs and create an opening. Over the next weeks we’ll conduct education about the different cultures we’re supporting. We also collaborate with the music industry a lot, in Somalia we collaborated with K’naan, who is an amazing new artist to come out of that part of the world and explored the world through his eyes and the eyes of the local people he introduced to us.

How do you feel about the controversy over your Donna Karen AD that was shot in Haiti?

It’s always about context, a picture speaks a thousand words, and it also doesn’t. Donna Karen is probably the most passionate person about culture overall and has thrown her whole weight into Haiti. When we did the Haiti production, she used all of her resources and did not want anything in return. It was in collaboration with the Haitian people. We wanted to use as much Haitian talent as we could which was discussed with the President of Haiti, the local artisans and producers. The mission was very clear, not focusing on the devastation, but showing the beautiful artistic parts. I believe the controversy was around, Adriana Lima wearing a beautiful dress with two Haitian men standing in the background. The two guys were working on the production and wanted to jump in the back of the shot, so I said how bout it, at this point we were just a great team of people with one thing on our minds, lets re-brand Haiti, and show how cool it is. Unfortunately, again a picture tells a thousand words, in this case it didn’t tell the true story. Someone asked, should thousand dollar dresses be advertised in a place like Haiti? My answer is we’re bringing business to Haiti, which is out initiative, and this is with the Haitian community’s support. We hope to bring a lot of photographic business there.

So how did you get your first break?

There’s an old saying: The harder I try the luckier I get, so the first break into photography really came in the mid 90’s. I got a break from an amazing creative director with an agency called David Littman who gave me the opportunity to meet people in New York and I ended up shooting two projects in the same week. I got the opportunity to shoot a story for W Magazine and I also shot on the ultra-commercial side – Sports Illustrated with Tyra Banks. The two projects led to series of fashion campaigns, commercial campaigns that led to the partnership with Victoria’s Secret and working for them has enabled me to also pursue my passion with Nomad: Two Worlds and all the fashion brands along the way that I’ve touched from fragrances to cosmetics to pure fashion brands like the Donna Karen company.

So what would your advice be for young photographers just starting out?

First, I’d say stay current. Digital has enabled you to explore your creativity without many expenses. Pay attention to details and the lighting. My advice is use social media to promote your self. The hardest thing in photography is to get exposure. Richard Avedon, whom I believe I’ve had a great connection with, spending a couple of days in Mr. Avedon’s lab me dramatically and I got to understand how he approached retouching and lighting. Look to be mentored, there’s plenty of mentors out there, use social media to connect and don’t think you have to pick your style of photography in the first 5 minutes, let it play out for a couple of years till you find what it is you’re passionate about and then start to develop that portfolio.

 

 

 

 

Meet the Photographers: Greg Girard and Anna Shteynshleyger

Meet the Collector: Ann Schaffer