Michael A Russ
Michael A. Russ is an extraordinary photographer and artist who has worked between the commercial and fine art fields for many years. He achieved great renown for the work that came out of his year-long collaboration with American musician, Tom Waits.
Born in Berlin during a January 1945 early morning air raid, Michael A. Russ moved to the USA in 1958 at age 13. He joined the US Army at 17 and was stationed in Germany for three years before returning to the USA and heading for New York.
Russ started his artistic career as an actor, but began to photograph himself and his fellow actors. He soon found himself sharing a studio on top of Blakes Hotel in Times Square with a group calling itself 'The Freelance Photographers Association'.
Here, he came across Wilhelmina Cooper, top-model and founder of the agency Wilhelmina Models, who encouraged him to become a fashion photographer.
“I learned how to make your own thing no matter how long it takes”
By the end of the 1960s Russ was working for major magazine titles and had moved into his own studio off Union Square. He frequented Max's Kansas City, a hot spot for Andy Warhol’s beautiful people and upcoming musical icons like Bowie, Joplin, Hendrix, and of course The Velvet Underground.
A move to Paris in 1976 proved to be decisive, as his work took a leap forward and he achieved international recognition. In 1983 Vogue Hommes showcased a portfolio of his work entitled Michael Russ or the Beauty of Grain. As the title suggests, Russ was beginning to develop his now trademark technique: out of grainy 35mm black and white film would evolve chemically toned, hand coloured, 'one of a kind' silver gelatin prints, which he called 'TinTones'.
“This material needs minimal, natural light and has a life of its own.”
Russ' TinTone images have been published in Mode Avantgarde, GUNNARS, Mode International, Photo Reporter, PHOTO, ZOOM, IL Mag, as well as Playboy Germany. His erotic hand colored postcard edition The Compagnie became part of the permanent collection of the Musée des Arts, Paris.
In contrast to fashion's traditional quest for perfection, the raw and edgy style of Russ’ photography leaves room for interpretation in the eye of the beholder, and has brought him great acclaim both commercially and artistically.
Russ stages his productions as a film director would a scene in a film. His images tell a story, provoking the imagination of the viewer. One notable viewer who responded to his work was script analyst Kathleen Brennan.
“I came across the technique of industrial printing on Alu from Thyssen-Krupp. This material needs minimal, natural light and lives by itself.”
ENTER TOM WAITS
Brennan recommended to her partner, Tom Waits, that he visit Michael’s 1983 exhibition, Prussian Blue at the China Club in LA. He did visit, and then commissioned Russ to produce the album cover for his forthcoming release, Swordfishtrombones, as well as the video for his single release, In The Neighborhood. Waits said of Russ, "I found Michael to be both imaginative and innovative. His approach to photography is with the eyes of a painter working with light. He displays a unique talent in both style and content. Michael is an individual with both a vision and an ability to execute it."
The visuals created by Russ matched the great musical achievement of Waits; a video and photographs of extraordinary beauty.