H e lists Vogue, Victoria's Secret and Rolex as his most prestigious clients, he's friends with supermodels and his photographs speak a thousand words for the minority communities within Australian. Now, Australian-born, New York-based photographer turned perfumer, Russell James is in Dubai for the launch of Raw Spirit, his latest endeavour. Buro 24/7 Middle East's Editor in Chief, Shannon Wylie, speaks exclusively with Russell James himself and supermodels Isabeli Fontana and Adriana Lima (pictured above) about the launch of the new perfume, photography and parenting...
Welcome to Dubai and congratulations on the launch of your perfume, Raw Spirit.
Russell: Thank you. It just seems kind of bizarre that I'm here away from Western Australia, in a city like Dubai, launching a fragrance.
You're an international photographer turned purfumer. Tell us about that...
Russell: I am a photographer and I think people may know me for my work with Victoria's Secret or my Vogue covers. Others, in the collecting space know me for fine art photography or my different collections. But those who know me really well, know that I spend a tremendous amount of time in indigenous marginalised communities, where I find the camera to be an amazing language that can communicate across many projects. Now with Raw Spirit we're able to present amazing cultures, talk about them and that's been something quite astonishing. In conjunction with that I have a foundation, that supports indigenous marginalised art initiatives, in countries around the world, and I love being involved in that.
To launch Raw Spirit in Dubai we're at Jean-Georges at the Four Seasons along with your friends, supermodels Adriana Lima and Isabeli Fontana. Tell me, how did you all become to know one another?
Russell: I've known Isabeli and Adriana, through different types and genres of photography. I'd say Adriana and I, we have a special connection together, a lot of issues that we sort of are attracted to, a lot of history.
Adriana: He's very inspirational and special to me as a photographer. He also opened a very big door for me: Haiti. The first time I went to Haiti, it was with Russell. I did a shoot for a campaign, and I was so impressed with the work. Now I try and help the country by educating children and their parents on health issues.
And you Isabeli?
Well, I'm here as a supporter. I used to work so much with Russell, and I remember many good times shooting with him in different pieces of paradise like the Caribbean. He loves when the sun is setting; it's the best light. He takes wonderful pictures, and it's always so nice and he makes us feel comfortable, like really comfortable. So for me it's a big pleasure to come and give my support.
You're a mother as well, and have two kids so it must be difficult to see children in such situations?
Adriana: Yes, I have two kids, but I try to do as much charity work myself, thanks to Russell.
Russell: I think something we all share, all of us, is that we are parents. I feel like it's a really big inspiration. I think that being a parent helps you develop the social contents around you and think about the world you want your kids to grow up in. To think about how lucky your own kids are, frankly brings us all the way back to the Nomad Two World's spirit, which is a foundation that works with indigenous marginalised communities to identify raw ingredients that are amazing, and then that turned into a partnership with Dr Omar of OBS Group. We decided to create a special package and size for the Middle East. Now the partnership is even bigger and includes Harry Freemont, who creates the blends, takes the raw material and I create the visual.
It's friends like Isabeli and Adriana that help us get the message through. I can't explain how important it is for friends to support friends in this type of scenario because in our own small world, we are all trying to make a difference.
Capturing the essence of a campaign can be hard, but what makes a model or a photographer great at being able to do that?
Adriana: The minute you walk in, you see Russell and he's very welcoming. It's been over ten years, I'm not going to say anything bad (laughs). I've never seen him complain or in a bad mood. He's always such a positive person, and there are days that you come in and you have your personal issues and personal things going on but he always brings me out of my personality.
Russell: It's not something you can do with anybody. When people have a will to connect, they do; it's evident in the photographs, you can see it and that's what you're looking for. Either you're looking at the camera or you're actually having a conversation and it's real. If you're having a conversation, I think the peak part of it is keeping it real and being down to earth, which is what it's really all about.
Adriana: It takes understanding too and that's one great thing is that he is understanding about everybody's different personalities. He accepts you for who you are, so that way we can bring out our true characters, which he captures. There are a few photographers, not many, that are able to do that — to open you. Automatically when you see a camera, sometimes people freeze, but not with him, and it depends who's on the other side.
Any plans to see the beautiful scenery of Dubai while you're here?
Isabeli: Yes, it's my dream actually to go to the desert, and to sleep in the desert. I really want to sleep in the desert! A friend of mine slept in the desert and he told me it was amazing, and I can't wait.
Are you all going together?
No, I'll be going with my fiancé, Diego, who is here.
Russell: I am going to see an art exhibition, Zaha Hadid and then I'll be seeing the sunset from the desert because I've always wanted to see a sunset from the desert. Canon will be in hand! I'll ruin the moment because I'll have the camera. I should just watch it but I'm going to shoot it.
Does your partner ever get annoyed that you're always pulling out the camera?
Russell: No. My family has grown up around photography, so a camera is an extension of life. Except for my kids, they won't let me take any photographs of them.
How old are they?
They're 24, 14 and 10. So there is one that I like and then there's the two older ones (laughs).
And you Adriana?
Adriana: I came to specifically to support Russell, unfortunately I would love to stay around but I can't.
You just came from the IWC launch at SIHH in Geneva?
Adriana: Yes, I arrived a few hours ago. It's OK, it's a pleasure to be here for a friend and for a great cause. I have to leave tomorrow because I have a lot of charity events to go to.
Russell: If you want to know what a real friendship is, that's what a real friendship is.
The Raw Spirit 100mL bootle, Dhs750, is available in the region at House of Fraser, Harvey Nichols Dubai and coming soon to Areej Stores across the UAE thanks to OBS Lifestyle.