The biggest challenge that Russell James faces as the principal photographer for Victoria’s Secret is getting viewers to look past those mesmerizing lingerie-clad female bodies, and see the inner beauty of the women he shoots.
By his own admission, James is a “determined failure” in this task, though certainly not for lack of trying.
After nearly 20 years of capturing the real beauty of megawatt supermodels like Adriana Lima, Candice Swanepoel and Heidi Klum, James’ career reaches a new zenith this week with the publication of “Angels”, a portfolio of revealing nude portraits of some of the world’s most renowned fashion icons.
The 304-page book (teNeues Publishing, $199) includes 170 tasteful, almost classical images of 35 models, and serves as a kind of companion to James’ 2010 book V2, which captured Miranda Kerr and other models nude in semi-candid outdoor settings.
Angels will begin shipping in October and can be pre-ordered from James’ website. A traveling gallery exhibition of prints from the books is expected to follow in November.
There’s nothing intentionally prurient about Angels, or any of James’ work, though that won’t stop legions of lecherous VS fans from salivating over these artistic NSFW images. But this is nudity with a higher purpose: as with his previous books, James is donating profits from Angels to his Nomad Two Worlds charitable project, which supports indigenous artists around the world.
The Australian James, now 52, is one of the most interesting personalities in the commercial photography business. He has a naturalist’s passion for detail, a painter’s appreciation of contrast, contours and lines, and an Aussie’s love of dramatic landscapes — all qualities that have helped create a signature style for Victoria’s Secret catalogue imagery and that have contributed measurably to the extraordinary success of both the brand and the careers of its models.
The Angels collection of (mostly) nude portraits isn’t associated with VS or its parent company L Brands, but it’s hard to imagine they would object to such a flattering representation of their prized assets.
“Simply shooting a nude photograph is easy,” James says in his introduction to Angels. “However, accepting the trust of a woman to be at her most vulnerable, and delivering in return a tasteful photograph that she herself can admire is extremely difficult.
“I have learned a great life lesson through these very personal photographic collaborations: women are inarguably the most compelling, complex and wonderful beings in the universe who will not be defined by any one-dimensional view — especially mine.”
Many people would consider James to be the luckiest guy in the world, and he’d probably be the first to agree. With Angels, and through Nomad Two Worlds, he pays it back — and forward.
© Russell James