from Los Angeles in 2013. Alone in an
unfamiliar place, Russell went to natural
areas “that were photographed all the time,”
such as Multnomah Falls, “where one is
expected to replicate the postcard view” that
photographers and hobbyists make. Instead,
he turned his back on the “postcard” views,
and draped colored cloth over his camera to
create color gradients. “I wanted to make
use of these areas, but in a way that yielded
a completely different result,” he explains.
He was interested in the question: “How do you
continue to make something from this thing
that is so beautiful but yet is overexposed?”
The halftone patterns Russell etched
into the surfaces of these photographs are
floral, but they appear to overlap, as if semi-
transparent sheets of paper were folded
or collaged. The halftone drawings were
inspired by what he saw while he was making
work prints in his studio. When he reused or
misfed a sheet of paper into his printer, “the
patterns would overlap or words would mix
with images.” The result “seemed to have the
sensibility of plants looking for sunlight.”
“Nature,” Russell notes, “is a lot about
things fighting for control.”
The technical challenge of drawing the
overlapping patterns increased the time it
took to create a piece five-fold, he estimates.
Part of what allowed him to challenge himself
was the fact that he was selling more work.
“I was financially comfortable, so there wasn’t
always this dreadful anxiety over everything
that happens in the studio,” he explains.
That level of comfort “became something
that pushed the work along.” For his series
“The Falls,” Russell created 40 pieces, which
include his “Mountain” works. Those recent
pieces incorporate more light and color
while still using the halftone drawings.
In viewing Russell’s prints, one
appreciates the skill and attention required
to scrape at the surface of a photograph
as he does. In terms of time spent, there
is definitely not an equal balance between
photography and drawing in his work:
His drawings can take weeks. Yet, he says,
photography is the essential element. “If I
just took a pen and made these exact same
drawings on paper, they wouldn’t be anything
close to what they are given their interaction
with photography and the excavation into the
print,” he explains.
If his practice were to shift, he says,
“I’m not going to discard the photograph.
I’m more likely to discard the drawing, if it
comes to that.”
ABOVE: “The Challenge Wind Makes XVI,” 2014, from “Runaway.” BELOW: “Mountain XV,” 2017, from “The Falls.”
Russell is interested in how nature is represented in forms ranging from wallpaper patterns to postcard views.