Acclaimed photographer Russell James was in Singapore as part of fashion week to hold the Canon Blogger Workshop, handing out useful tips and sharing his valuable insights into the changing world of professional photography.
As part of Canon’s “early adopter” group of photographers who got their hands on the very first digital cameras, James is perfectly positioned to assist the burgeoning group of young online photographers better understand how to capture the perfect shot.
Although he only started working professionally ten years ago, Australian-born James has become synonymous with images that offer a different perspective on the often frivolous worlds of fashion, beauty and entertainment.
Published in everything from Vogue and W magazines to fine art books, James is also known for his campaigns for major fashion labels like Donna Karan and Victoria’s Secret, shooting huge stars like Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry, Faith Hill, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna and Hugh Jackman; he’s even had solo exhibitions in New York, Berlin, Knokke (Belgium) and Sydney.
But James has a reputation for producing more than just pretty pictures, he also supports creating socially conscious images, something he describes as “producing meaningful content”. The Nomad Two Worlds art project, for example, was inspired by the “global consequences of cultural collision”.
Informed by the indigenous Australian peoples’ experience with the past and current political narrative, the project has expanded to include other countries and cultures. The exhibitions feature art and consumer products created by indigenous peoples from around the world with the aim to “provide long-term benefit to the artists and further the public’s understanding and appreciation of the world’s most threatened cultures and communities”.
Go to www.nomadtwoworlds.com for more information about the project
While James was in Singapore we had a chance to sit down and ask a few questions – quite a few actually, and he was wonderfully generous with his time – about the changing perceptions of beauty, the rise of Asia, bloggers, the impact of digital photography on the quality of images and tips for aspiring photographers, among many other things.
The master at work: Russell James on a shoot. Image: Provided by Russell James
Over your career have you experienced changed perceptions of “beauty”, and what’s your opinion of the increased focus on Asia as a source of such “beauty”?
Yes, definitely, there’s more emphasis on diversity [in both beauty and fashion]. Although I’m known for my fashion work, my background is in working with indigenous groups and producing portraits and artworks.
Now there’s a new willingness to look to other cultures, it’s on a whole other level. [In Singapore] it’s great to see Asia-centric designers getting attention in the market.
However for many large, international campaigns you’re still seeing the same people. But how can you use a single face for a global campaign? There’s so much diversity in looks around the world. It’s more about making a ‘gut call’ to pick the right one.
Victoria’s Secret [for example] has always been diverse. They’re [colour blind, not talent blind – this was actually my quote but James liked it so much he said he’d claim it for his own].
* James was the first photographer to get a black model, Tyra Banks, on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Has the ‘rise of the blogger’ become a threat to the careers of ‘real photographers’ or a fresh entry point for new talent?
Bloggers have changed the game, with social media they’re able to affect the big brands; they have power. The digital revolution has enabled a lot of people [photographers] to be seen that might not have been; they bring a real point of difference.
Has the impact of digital photography affect the ability of photographers to edit their works well, to take more considered images, or has it freed up their creativity?
Digital photographer has lifted the game in general. When it was new I got caught up in taking lots of shots, but now I’ve returned to taking fewer, more considered shots. Digital was like a wave … you could take a massive number of frames but it diluted the quality [of the final images]. The clients wanted too many things from each shoot; there was too much ‘noise’.
When I started using a digital camera I certainly experienced a learning curve. All the post-production [the cropping, sizing and colouring of images for use in magazines or as prints] changed considerably. Before the editor just got a negative to scan, the image was perfect already.
What’s your opinion on the massive increase in ‘happy snaps’, the millions of smartphone and pocket camera images now on the internet?
Well, they can be meaningless and pathetic on one level, but they can also be the most meaningful thing in the world. It’s about the content, about supporting socially conscious images. We’re running a competition with a huge cash prize for these sorts of images. It doesn’t matter what tool was used to take the images, what matters is what the image is … it’s about creating meaningful content.
What can developing photographers do to help improve their images and their job opportunities?
There’s no one thing to do. Yes, tech skills are great; but the important thing is to have an ‘eye’. Offer your time for free to work on shoots – you learn so many things; tips and tricks but also about managing people which is so important. You just have to shoot a lot, and not be scared to try something different. You learn more from your mistakes than your successes. You should also visit agents – they’ll all have insights [into your work]. Just speak to people in the industry as much as you can.
With that James had to, finally, break off for another meeting, a much less exciting one he explained; it was with a tax accountant.
Russell James was in Singapore to hold the Canon Blogger Workshop as part of Audi Fashion Week; his camera of choice is the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which he used for his recent Victoria’s Secret and Donna Karan campaigns, as well as his short film work for Nomad Two Worlds. For more information about Audi Fashion Week, go to: audifashionfestival.com. For more information about Nomad Two Worlds, go to: www.nomadtwoworlds.com.
- art project
- asian fashion exchange
- audi fashion festival
- blueprint tradeshow
- Canon EOS 5D Mark III
- digital camera
- donna karan
- film cameraman
- film director
- indigenous people
- Nomad Two Worlds
- Russell James
- singapore fashion week
- victoria's secret