Russell James is an incredibly skilled photographer, a world traveler and the envy of men around the world, thanks to the extensive list of supermodels he has photographed completely nude. His talent for creating beautiful and provocative images is more apparent than ever in the new book "Angels," a 300-page compilation of his work with said supermodels over the last two decades.
After taking a peek at some of his photos, we needed to know more about him, including his process and how he got involved with fashion photography. We chatted with James about everything from the most difficult part of shooting nudes to Kendall Jenner to the "odd" way he starts off a shoot.
On what makes fashion photography so interesting:
Originally and still ultimately it's light, shape and form. Fashion is a funny thing, because I think there are those that shoot fashion because they love it and those who do it because they love the never-ending shapes and styles that come each season, which to me is most exciting. For me, the reason I'm so passionate about it is because it's like, what's next? What's the surprise?
On the challenges of shooting nudes:
When you’re doing fashion or something like it, you’re starting with a semi-painted canvas. An amazing designer has already given you something beautiful to work with and I’m just putting the final touch on the canvas. With a nude, you’re starting with a really blank canvas. When you’re trying to go through a range of emotions and feelings, from soft and idyllic all the way to provocative and intense, the greatest challenge is starting that blank canvas.
On how he really feels about Kendall Jenner:
I have a great adoration for Kendall. I met her about two years ago and at the time, she was too young for me to photograph at all. But she just expressed how sincerely she wanted to be a fashion model. The first shoot we did together was for Vogue Australia, that’s how I got to know her. I didn’t want to put her in the book for any controversial reasons, but I knew it would mean so much to her to be included, and I feel that she is that caliber of girl. The way I tried to portray her in the book is the way I see her – innocent and pure and not overtly sexual.
On the photos he likes even more than the ones in "Angels":
Some of my most favorite shoots have been a result of traveling to the most remote parts of the world, like in the Outback, and shooting things of cultural significance. Those shoots are probably the most myself and the most well connected.
On the way even veteran "Angels" have surprised him:
I would say that one of the greatest transformations that I’ve seen is Lily Aldridge. She is a genetic wonder –- absolutely beautiful. She’s done Victoria’s Secret, she’s also a mother. When I asked her to shoot for this, it was an opportunity for her to say “yes, I’m sexy too. Don’t put confine me into one box.” She really surprised me by turning up the heat.
On the "odd" way he starts off a shoot:
I realize that there is this awkward moment, this five-hundred-pound gorilla in the room when they’re naked you’re not and you’ve got a camera. So I often start the shoot at that time by acknowledging it. I don’t stand back and say something like ‘you’re so gorgeous,’ in fact, I try to do the exact opposite. Despite the occasional compulsion to say ‘OH MY GOD! You’re ridiculous! Have you ever looked in the mirror?!’ I often end up starting the shoot with a very extreme close up of the eye or part on the face. I think people appreciate that because at that point they realize that I’m actually interested in them, in their beauty. The way you approach it is important, it has to be with respect.
The most important thing to me is making sure the model is comfortable. I get everyone out who doesn’t need to be there, I put boards up. We want to make something innovative and beautiful as opposed to exploiting. If the person in the shot doesn’t like the end result when I show them I would never publish the photo -- and I never have.
On the women he'd like to shoot next:
There are just so many. I’m absolutely intrigued by Beyonce. Jennifer Lawrence's face is so compelling. Those are two to say the least.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.