Why Photographer Russell James​ Doesn’t Play Favorites

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Russell James is known for many things: being Victoria’s Secret’s go-to lensman, rarely wearing shoes on set, having a charming Australian accent, and racking up a portfolio of work that includes every major model who has worked over the past few decades.

But when he gathered his nearest and dearest to celebrate the launch of Angels, his latest photography book and accompanying exhibit, James was feeling a bit nervous.

„I’m feeling as insecure as I did the first day I started photography,“ he admits to CR.

There was really no need for those nerves; despite the relentless fashion calendar last week, Stephan Weiss Gallery in the West Village was packed with leggy models. From Cindy Crawford to Kendall Jenner, plus Gigi Hadid, Candice Swanepoel, Elsa Hosk, and Grace Bol, James‘ loyal supporters showed up in droves.

And yes, most of the evening’s guests were featured in the pages of Angels, which is a follow-up to James‘ 2014 photography tome that goes by the same title. Both books have a common focus—the female figure, often shot tastefully nude or in an intimate setting—which has become James‘ signature style.

Here, the photographer talks about working with Cindy Crawford and getting to know Gigi and Bella Hadid—on a personal level. He also explains his on-set process, in addition to noting his careful approach nudity in the particularly thoughtful age of #MeToo.

How did the process of putting this book together differ from the last Angels book, that came out just four years ago?
„A couple of the girls said to me at the 2014 event, ‚I’m so disappointed, because we’re not in the book!‘ So, within days I started shooting Elsa Hosk and Stella Maxwell at different points for this second book. This time around, I planned where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, or I presented the concept of the shoot to the person I wanted to include. And I was certain that wanted this book to have a strong point of view. So I deliberately focused on collaborating with each model. Some models were absolutely involved in the styling and the smaller aspects of their image. Others were like, ‚Tell me where to show up and we’ll do it.‘ So the evolution of this edition has that strong sense of collaboration.“

Which models were most involved in collaborating with you?
„I did a shoot with Cindy Crawford at her house in Malibu a couple years ago, and we quite liked it. But we were talking later on and said if we were to do it over, we would totally do it differently. She was dressed up in boots and other apparel and I felt that the shoot was more about fashion and less about Cindy, the icon. We ended up finding the perfect location, and said, ‚let’s start with a sheet.‘ The sheet became the main styling and the shoot evolved from there.“

You also asked Cindy to write the forward for this tome. How did that come about?
„I got to know Cindy far better in the time between her first shoot and the one for this book and I just asked her if she’d do the forward to the book. She agreed, but had some great questions for me, like ‚Why choose me?‘ Of course I could have asked a really close friend, but I just really appreciate her perspective over the industry. She’s the queen.“

Do you play favorites, at least in terms of models you like to work with?
„It’s not so much favorites, as it is getting to know these amazing women. Some of them I’ve known since they started their career and I have daughters the same age as them. Others, I’m just fascinated by their beauty. But when it comes to getting a great shot, it doesn’t come down to favorites, it comes down to figuring out how I can provide the right environment.“

In today’s #MeToo era, how do you create that perfect environment, especially for shoots that involve a lot of nudity?
„I’ve never found the necessity to do a nude for a nude’s sake. I always offer styling options and then, if I see a great opportunity for a nude, I’ll ask for it. But I think, most importantly, is that I take a true interest in who the person I’m shooting is. I’m usually standing with the camera right in their face when we start, whether they’re fully clothed or nude. I’m talking to them and making eye contact. It’s very much about me, them, and the camera.“

Can you tell us about your shoot with Bella Hadid, in this black and white image, that CR can exclusively share?
„I was studying Bella and I was intrigued by what I see are movie star-like qualities. There’s something so lingering about Bella and her love of clothes, her love of fashion is apparent. So I did her more styled, using wardrobe and accessories—it’s those little things that gave her something to bounce off of. What you don’t see in that portrait is what she was wearing, but you can see her energy. That portrait is a true captured moment of her not locked on the camera, not being fierce, but just being everything that is Bella.“

You’ve also worked a lot with Gigi. Is she equally as passionate about fashion?
„Gigi loves horses. The first time I met her I didn’t really understand how much she loves horses. Actually, I wouldn’t say love, I’d say her connection to horses is actually something that really defines her.“

Angels is available for pre-order online, using the code ANGELS50.

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createdAt:Fri, 07 Sep 2018 16:25:25 +0000
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