Russell James

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“Taking pictures of women for men is easy. It’s taking pictures of women which women find beautiful that’s challenging,” Russell James explains to a gallery visitor during the closing reception of his exhibition, “Angels.” The show, a retrospective of his 18-year career shooting for Victoria’s Secret, has toured Aspen, New York and Miami, and is now en route to Berlin, Germany. Comprised entirely of elegant black and white nude portraiture, “Angels” is a testament to contemporary beauty, capturing the zeitgeist of pop culture’s collective physical ideal – just as Helmet Newton’s iconic nudes perfectly depicted the beauty idealized in the 1980s.

Born in Australia, Russell James lived in Japan, Germany and Sweden before moving to New York in his early 30s to pursue his career as a photographer. His lucky break came in 1996 when his photo of Tyra Banks landed the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.

While “fashion” photography may be what drives Russell’s signature style, his passion is also firmly rooted in his philanthropic platform Nomad Two Worlds, which promotes cross-cultural exchange and supports indigenous artists. Most recently, Nomad Two Worlds collaborated with the Native American Seminole Tribe to create the series “Seminole Spirit”, a collection of exquisite photographs printed on hand-made Japanese paper that document the tribe’s sacred traditions and their property’s natural beauty of vast, sweeping landscapes and untamed swamplands. The resulting images are poetic interpretations of rebellion, danger and romance, portraying the ancestral legacies that resonate throughout these sacred places.

While en route back to New York City after unveiling the “Seminole Spirit” series at Donna Karan’s concept shop, Urban Zen Aspen, the photographer took a moment to reflect on the past year and answer a few questions for SOMA:

What’s been this past year’s professional highlights?

There are two highlights that really stand out for [me] over the past year. The first was the launch of my new art book and fine art photography collectors’ edition, Angels. I believe this nude series to be one of the most special in the world. Not only because I shot it – I wish it were so – but rather because of the extraordinary collection of women who so generously gave their permission for me to publish this body of work. And I admit being very excited when I saw the Angels book hit the best sellers list!

The other highlight would be my artistic collaboration with The Seminole Tribe of Florida starring one of the greatest models I have encountered, Behati Prinsloo. It was a highlight that the chief of the tribe, James E. Billie, actually came from his reservation in Brighton to attend the exhibition opening in New York.

What’s a typical day (or week) like for Russell James?

It’s a push through the snow to get to my studio in Manhattan and shoot a lingerie campaign, a flight and drive into Native American lands to explore culture or attending a gallery opening of one of my collections. There really is no one week like any another and I cherish that fact.

What’s next for Russell James and/or Nomad Two Worlds?

“Angels” will open at one of the world’s finest contemporary photography galleries, CameraWork, in Berlin on April 25th for six weeks. My next Nomad adventure is the launch of Raw Spirit fragrances, an art-driven brand with partners in many indigenous cultures of the world.

What do you hope your work brings to contemporary cultural discourse?

I hope that my collaborations with indigenous and marginalized communities (often one and the same) is part of bringing meaningful partnerships and awareness of the great relevance and possible solutions that culture can provide to many of the social issues we face today.

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Text by Emilie Trice