Interview: Benjy Russell

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in rural Oklahoma in a very small town. Growing up I was constantly going into my own imagination to create something that was bigger, better, and flashier than where I was living. I guess that’s where my fascination with building a better reality began. At some point I realized that I had hit a glass ceiling by staying in the rural country, so I decided to move to Los Angeles. LA was very good to me and I learned so much about life out there. At some point though, the country boy in me started rebelling against city life. Then, in 2007, my friend Rya and I decided to move to the mountains in Tennessee to make art and invite all of our friends out to make art with us. It was a really romantic venture that we set out on, and as a result we were able to host many amazing artists.

Did you go to school to study photography?

I didn’t have any formal training. In the small town that I lived in, you had two job options: construction work or the oil field. So while most artists are getting their undergrad or grad degree, I was learning carpentry, heating/air, and electrical skills. I even spent some time working on an oil rig and in a factory. I would take my paychecks from these jobs and buy tons of film so that I could figure out how my camera worked. I not only wanted to know how the basics of the camera worked, but how I could tweak it and manipulate it.

When did you first become interested in photography?

I picked up my first camera around 13 and it was all over after that.

How do you find your subjects?

They’re all dear friends that I’m very lucky to have come across in my life.

How important is Photoshop in your final images?

It’s no secret that I prefer surreality over reality any day. Much of my work has an element of impossibility floating around in the air. Except for the digital collages (which I think are really obvious PS jobs), I’d much rather come up with a way to execute the image in camera instead of in post. It’s actually very similar to tricks a magician might use to fool an audience. Wire, mirrors, shadows, and light can all be used to trick the camera, and sometimes it’s a little longer process.
Take for example, the image of the chainsaw and the butterflies entitled Morning Piss (the ties that bind us shall never tear us apart). After consistently pissing off the front porch in the same spot every morning, I started to notice a large gathering of butterflies there everyday. It turns out that butterflies are attracted to the high concentration of vitamins and urea in morning piss. So for two weeks, my fiance Sterling and I pissed on my chainsaw every morning, and then I hung it in the woods with magicians wire and waited on the butterflies to come flitting into frame.

What are the ingredients for success with photography?

Persistence, determination, and good intentions.

Where is the most spectacular place you’ve ever been?

The mountains our cabin is nestled in are pretty stunning.

What’s your dream photography project?

Aren’t they all a dream?

Do you remember your first photography sale?

Not really. It was probably in high school.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

It’s a difficult time to be a photographer I think. Thanks to cell phones, 90% of the world’s population has constant access to digital photography. There were more photos taken last year than in the entire history of photography. We are bombarded by images everyday. Eventually I think the image, in turn, will lose its ability to impact the viewer. As image-makers, I don’t know where that puts us.

Is there anything else you would like to say to HappyPhoton readers?

I hope you have a great day!

One Comment to “Interview: Benjy Russell”

  • Benji, LOVE your work! You have a beautiful spirit and an incredible talent. Love you, g

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