By Baldev Duggal
It was more than ten years ago when we first worked with acclaimed photographer Russell James. He had been commissioned by Hermes to create a site-specific installation at the Academy of Art in Tribeca.
James, already pushing his fashion photography into an experimental fine art genre, was exploring the theme of the “Nomad” in his photography at the time. He conceptualized the installation as “islands” of visual experiences that would lead people through a journey through five elements. I remember creating floor to ceiling prints of James’ pictures to emulate wall enclosures through which people could walk into different “rooms” of James’ gorgeous photographs.
We printed his images as large as possible on materials that ranged from Copper, Aluminum and Acrylic to Mirrors and Silks. At a time when many photographers were still questioning the future of high resolution digital imagery, Russell experimented freely with our latest digital printing techniques to deliver an experience that went far beyond the experience of his photography on glossy magazine covers. The success of the exhibition demonstrated James’ unique ability to channel his intuitive connection to the earth and his nomadic spirit into a visual spectacle that would both aesthetically and metaphorically transport the audience into another world.
A decade after that experience it came as no surprise when I discovered that Russell had channeled his versatility with art and culture into a wildly successful creative organization that collaborates with Indigenous artists from around the world. Nomad Two Worlds, a project, which began as a “steeply messaged artistic collaboration” between James and Australian Indigenous artists, is now a socially responsible global business that works to “raise awareness of the beauty and rich cultural history of Indigenous people worldwide”. The Nomad team collaborates with Indigenous artists to create culturally relevant contemporary art and consumer products to provide sustainable economic opportunities for the artists.
The project has also spawned the Nomad Two Worlds Foundation, a philanthropic entity established to support, nurture and promote artists from Indigenous and marginalized cultures and through art, create a platform for dialogue and education on the importance of cultural preservation to Indigenous communities’ health, self-esteem and the well-being of its children.
If you were to catch Russell on one of his regular gigs when he is shooting supermodels for campaigns for the world’s biggest glamour brands including Victoria Secret, Donna Karan, Revlon, Rolex among many others, you’d be hard pressed to link him to the man who spends much of his time traveling to remote parts of the world developing multi-disciplinary art projects with Indigenous artists. James is working on a mission to preserve what he considers the most pressing cultural issue of our time—preserving our threatened links with the native cultures we come from so we can remember our “individuality as people.”
Russell’s works have appeared in leading publications such as Vanity Fair, W, American Photo and Sports Illustrated, and have been published in several fine art books by world leading art-book publisher teNeues Publications, including the three-hundred page retrospective ‘Russell James’ (2009) and his sequel ‘V2’ (2010). In August of 2007 Russell was awarded the Hasselblad Masters Award, and in 2009 Russell joined the prestigious ranks of Irving Penn and Helmut Newton as a resident artist of Camera Work, the world’s leading gallery for contemporary photography and vintage master works. In September 2010 a series of James’ images was inducted in to the ‘fashion’ museum tour alongside such greats as Richard Avedon, William Klein, Peter Lindbergh and many other master photographers of our time.
Russell’s stardom in the fashion industry won him many admirers, the most wonderful of them, Donna Karan, whose foundation Urban Zen became fully dedicated to supporting Nomad Two Worlds since its very inception. “Nomad Two Worlds is a creative, multi-media collaboration I became involved with two years ago with the brilliant photographer, Russell James. Nomad Two Worlds is everything Urban Zen is about and frankly everything I’m about. Connecting the dots between the past, present and future. Expressing the artistry and soul of native cultures through the technology and creativity of modern artists,” states Karan as she travels around the world to develop new projects with Urban Zen and Nomad Two Worlds. Nomad Two Worlds was invited to Haiti by the Clinton Global Initiative together with Donna Karan and her foundation Urban Zen to help stimulate the artisan community after the devastating earthquake. James had been developing art in Haiti since 2009 collaborating with Haitian artists including Pascale Monnin, Debreus Lherisson, Reinold Clerisier and Philippe Dodard to create beautiful contemporary artforms that combine James’ photography with traditional sequin-work, acrylic painting, beading and sculpting.
In November 2011, the Clinton Global Initiative invited Nomad Two Worlds and UrbanZen to create an outdoor exhibition of the artworks they created with Haitian artists as part of their “Invest in Haiti” forum organized by CGI, Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Haiti. James who has been running Nomad Two Worlds as a non-profit organization turned to my son, Mike Duggal for assistance in reproducing these artworks for the exhibition. Given the opportunity to assist the rebuilding and economic empowerment of Haiti after the devastating earthquake, my son and I were only too eager to help Russell in any way we could. We digitally reproduced all of the 30 works of art on large format fabric through a dye-sublimation process in which the image gets permanently transferred to a substrate making it perfect for outdoor conditions while retaining the pictures’ high resolution. The pictures were hung like paintings across the periphery of the forum’s venue. “The combination of our images and Duggal Visual Solutions’ high quality printing brought a beautiful array of color, style and design to the exhibition that President Clinton felt was an important visual component to the forum,” stated Russell James.
Last month Oprah requested several of the printed pieces to be used as backdrops for a documentary she is making to support Haiti. I am extremely proud of Russell and Donna Karan’s commitment to highlighting these poignant shifts in our global culture and am excited that Duggal could contribute to this phenomenal convergence of fashion, entertainment, philanthropy, cultural preservation and economic empowerment, through the lens of a camera. This is what drives each one of our 300 employees at Duggal and makes our journeys truly meaningful as we continue to support artists and artisans who create to change the world.
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