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Yvette Meltzer: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?
Russ Rowland: It happened very slowly and very late in my life. I worked in PR and one of my accounts was a camera company. They gave me a little digital camera and I just started playing with it. After a few years I realized I really wanted to learn about photography and cameras in a more disciplined way so I got my first DSLR and enrolled in a course at ICP. That was in 2010.
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YM: When did you know you wanted to pursue photography as a career?
RR: I never intended to be a photographer. Ever. I rarely looked at photography or cared about it. But once I found it, it really felt like the thing in life I was meant to do. Now I work, play and eat photography pretty much 24-7 and I’ve never been happier. You know how people say “do the thing you love and the rest will follow”? I always thought that that was a load of BS…until I started working as a photographer. Things have really fallen into place and keep encouraging me along the way like some guiding force. It sounds dumb I know. I’ve never experienced this with anything else in life.
YM: The “Open Theme” issue of F-Stop includes images from your project “Through the Looking Glass”. Can you tell us about this project?
RR: It brings together a number of things that continue to fascinate me: shooting portraits…the ways photographing through glass alters and enhances faces…my love of paintings, abstraction and the texture of brush strokes…and trying to find something transcendent in the utterly mundane (in this case using a shower as a medium.)
YM: So the whole is more than the sum of the parts?
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YM: What led to this project?
RR: Basically I just love the way glass, water and steam can be manipulated to create a painterly look, and evoke texture and emotion. It creates a look I covet. Also, I’ve been taken with creating images in camera that look like they must have been photo-shopped. It’s a challenge that fascinates me (probably because I was doing a lot of photo-shopping and wondered if I could save myself some time.)
YM: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally?
RR: It’s a bit like theater and a chemical process. I use the same exact set up each time, but I never know what I will get. There is ample room for anomalies, kismet and surprise. Each session lasts about 45 minutes and is collaboration between me, the subject, and the water on glass. It’s like a performance: we play and improvise as I move around the single light. Then we take a bow and go home.
YM: What is the intended end or purpose for the project?
RR: A gallery show would be nice…or even Bed, Bath and Beyond.
YM: What do you hope people see or feel or perhaps learn when they look at your photographs?
RR: I hope that they see beauty, something that grabs or touches them in some way before they run off to the next thing. I’m not really here to teach.
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YM: Do you have a favorite image in this series?
RR: The ones that make the cut are all favorites in a way.
YM: What are you working on now?
RR: More altered faces! I’m shooting a lot of theater productions and I think that keeps inspiring me in ways. This spring I’ve been taking advantage of the blooming foliage to shoot another portrait series in the park, late at night, with a projector. It’s called “Force of Nature” and they are like a “non-humans of New York.” I’ve turned everyone I know into a sprite from a Shakespearean play.
YM: What photographers or other artists inspire you?
RR: Throughout my life paintings have always inspired me. In fact, I always refer to photos as paintings and have to catch myself. The works of Picasso, Di Chirico, Monet, Van Gogh (to name some obvious starters) have been in my head as far back as I can remember. It’s only recently that I’ve immersed myself in the world of photography. And there is so much knockout work that inspires me every day.
YM: What is the best career advice you have ever received?
RR: The best – and most liberating – advice I ever got was: “Go ahead, Make a mess.” Boy did that free me. You have to try stuff…even the silliest notion. If it all falls apart, and comes to nothing, so what? No one will die or bleed. But if you don’t push, experiment and play, you will never get anywhere interesting or meaningful.
YM: What is the most challenging work you have ever done?
RR: I don’t think I’ve done it yet. Hopefully that’s what I am working towards.
YM: Thank you, Russ for responding to all of these inquiries.
For more of Russ Rowland’s work: www.rrsnapshop.com