David Russo’s portfolio was selected as an example of Outstanding Work by juror Christopher James in the2020 Denis Roussel Award.
“The Framer – believes the physicality of the print affects our experience of the subject – wet collodion positives on glass The works you have created are beautifully crafted. My favorite in the portfolio is the image Two Nails which, for me, beautifully demonstrates your wet plate collodion skills as well as your ability to replicate magic and illusion. I would love to experience more of this type of work!” Christopher James
Please tell us about yourself?
I am a photographer based in Rochester, NY and work as an object preparator at the George Eastman Museum. My photographic practice is one that embraces the tactile pleasures of traditional historic processes.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I received my training at the Alfred University School of Art & Design.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I’ve had many encouraging teachers, mentors, and colleagues who have fostered my love of photographs and deepened my appreciation for the beauty and importance of the handmade.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
I remember being rather stuck the first time I saw Lewis Hine’s photograph Powerhouse Mechanic, 1920-21. In this photograph and others, Hine illuminated the dignity of working tradespeople through beautifully staged occupational portraits. His photographs elevated the everyday and reflected the humanity behind the labor. His work has certainly stayed with me and informed the direction of my practice.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Two Nails was a plate that taught me the importance of both patience and persistence. From initial conception to the final image that you see, I produced roughly 50 attempts over the span of 2 months.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to The Denis Roussel Award
The work samples submitted are from an ongoing series titled The Framer. An autobiographical fiction, it fuses personal and family histories set within an imagined 1920s. It is both a cathartic vehicle to explore my own past and a love letter to the photographic practitioners of the 1920s.
When I began this series, I’d been working professionally as a picture framer for nearly a decade, and it seemed like a natural extension of my working life to begin photographing the tools of the trade. This led me to imagine the story of The Framer, a broader narrative that explores what it means to come of age. It touches on my father’s loss of his own father at a young age and my own loss of faith in the church in which I was raised. It is a series about finding one’s self.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
I think the beginning of the creative process, of imagining a photograph, is often the most enjoyable. To only be constrained by the limits of your own imagination is a wonderful thing.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
I find it helpful to put some space between me and the work. Some photographs just takes more time to fully realize than others.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
For any lens-based artist, the camera is probably one of their most essential tools. I am currently using a refurbished 5×7 Rochester Optical “Universal” Camera made around 1895. When combined with the use of modern studio lighting, I’ve enjoyed pushing the limits of traditional wet-plate practices and discovering new photographic possibilities.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I would love to learn how to make albumen silver prints from glass plate negatives. In continuing to explore 19th century photographic techniques, it seems like this could be an interesting extension of my current wet-plate work.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
For me, making photographs is an attempt to better understand myself and to locate my place in the world. In doing research for The Framer I learned a lot about both the history of the picture frame and the broader cultural events of the 1920s. For example, throughout most of that decade it was widely accepted that the universe itself was both static and limited. In 1929, however, the noted astronomer Edwin Hubble proved that the stars in the universe were not only moving, but expanding into limitless space. It was a discovery that reshaped the way we thought about the heavens and gave us a new lens through which to view the world.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?
I’ve been very fortunate, in that I’ve not been adversely affected by the current pandemic. My thoughts go out to everyone who has been struggling during this difficult time.
What’s on the horizon?
The Framer is an ongoing series, so I’m looking forward to continuing to make plates and completing this body of work.
To learn more about the work of David Russo please visit his IG account at David Russo.