School teacher by day, photographer by night, James Russell creates imagery that tells a story. With a recent exhibition completed at the Uralla Bowlo, James tells us what it’s like behind the lens …
Hi James. Tell us a little about yourself.
I moved to Armidale with my family almost six years ago, after teaching and living in remote areas in the Northern Territory for a number of years. I am a High School PE Teacher and have worked at both Armidale High and currently at O’Connor Catholic College. Photography has been a hobby up until recently, where it has started to evolve into bit of a side gig for holidays and weekends. I am married to my wonderful wife, Renee, and have three beautiful daughters to chase after.
When/how did you get into photography?
I have always loved to flick through magazines … and for the most part this was to look at the photographs. This fascination with photographs led to me buying a few different cameras over the years, but I didn’t really become seriously interested in the process of making photographs until we moved to Alice Springs when I was in my late 20s. With so much amazing scenery and colour surrounding me and totally unique experiences to be had, I purchased the cheapest DSLR I could get my hands on at the time, a Pentax K200D.
What began as a casual, occasional pastime changed significantly for me when I stumbled upon my first analogue camera a couple of years later. I became obsessed with the nostalgia of film and vintage cameras. DSLR, TLR, SLR, Rangefinder … they all became new play things, and I was hooked on what could be achieved in creatively controlling aperture and shutter speed, combined with the random flukiness of film in a vintage body. An obsession to collect vintage bodies also developed rapidly. Since this time I have been absorbed with using both digital and analogue mediums, although like many photographers, the ease and convenience of digital often wins out.
With some big brands out there, what gear are you shooting with?
Most recently I’ve been hooked on photographing with a Fujifilm X-Pro 2. The classic look and feel of the camera combined with its technical ability and dreamy colour rendition have made it pretty addictive. Fuji also produce some excellent lenses that are relatively affordable for their excellent quality, so I have found it to be an affordable, high quality set-up.
With the Armidale Art Prize from Armidale Art Gallery recently wrapped up, tell us about the works you submitted …
I submitted a few different images. A couple of portraits, a landscape taken after a massive storm near Gunnedah, a black and white of some local Koori boys I worked with dancing a traditional dance and a nice wildlife portrait of our friendly neighbours … some Scottish Highland Cattle from over the fence.
Did you take out any prizes?
Much to my surprise, I was fortunate enough to do pretty well, winning the portrait section with a photograph of one of my daughters and the landscape section with the storm photo.
Shooting style … Everybody has their prefered genre of photography; what avenue have you taken and why?
Style wise, I have not gravitated too strongly towards any particular photographic style; however, I particularly enjoy shooting portraits, documentary and landscape photographs. I have recently been drawn more towards crafting images that tell a story. This has led to me shooting a number of people in the local area who work in pretty traditional hands-on sort of jobs. These have included shearers, brewers, a saddler, foundry workers and mechanics. I have really enjoyed getting to chat to these people and attempting to show something of their skill and dedication towards their craft/trade.
You recently had an exciting exhibition. Tell us about the ideas behind of this body of work.
Living in New England, I had been keen to capture some shearing at some point. As I have mentioned, this led to me photographing some local shearers. With the help of fellow local photographer Michael Taylor, I have managed to get into a few sheds and capture the hustle and bustle, as well as some of the quieter moments that go on at shearing time. Growing up a bit of a city kid, I had no real idea of what goes on in a wool shed, so I have really enjoyed getting in and having a look around and chatting to the hard working people who work in the sheds.
I decided pretty early on that the images I was capturing were worth sharing and that I really wanted others to see something of this uniquely Australian industry and the characters who drive it. Uralla Bowlo heard of what I was up to and approached me about displaying some prints in their newly refurbished Bistro and having an exhibition. Naturally I was pretty keen, and we worked together to hang an exhibition of about 25 black and white images capturing local shearers and other workers, as well as some local historic wool sheds. The exhibition was titled Shearing … a New England Tradition and some of the images will remain up for a while in the club.
What attracted you to this style?
I think I was really drawn to the idea of story telling though still images, particularly with the mystique of what actually goes on in these beautiful old sheds. This element of story telling is becoming more and more of a focus for my photography. I am really enjoying the challenge of capturing an image that not only attempts to tell what is going on, but also why.
Where do you pull your inspiration from?
I actually feel that inspiration is all around us. I find myself driving around our beautiful part of the world spotting things or people that “I must get a photo of some time”. There is so much going on and so much beauty right on our door step.
I also find a lot of inspiration in looking at the work of other photographers … Obviously some of the classic come to mind, such as Cartier-Bresson, Adams, Maier and Eggleston, but I also really like the photojournalism of Steve McCurry and Andrew Quilty. I’m also bit of a tragic for flicking through magazines, my favourite being Monster Children.
What’s next for James Russell Photography?
I plan to continue what I have been doing this past year – to focus on telling stories through the images I capture and to continue to try and improve my skills and develop as a photographer. I have also recently done a couple of paid shoots, so I am looking at doing more of these – family sessions, events, corporate/business photography.
I have also been asked about doing weddings, so I am considering taking on this challenge as well. Marketing and selling my images is also something I would like to get into. Overall, I plan to continue getting behind the lens as often as possible to continue to improve at the craft of producing memorable images that impact upon those that view them.