An Interview with Tracy (Jack) Russell
For a photographer with over 30,000 followers on instagram and a pretty big following on the Purple Port website, I must admit that I find it very odd Jack or ‘Tracy’ does not have a website.
We grabbed a few mins of Jack ‘Tracy’ Russell’s time to work out who is he is and what makes him tick. We talk cameras, models, inspirations and a few other things too.
As a starter question, where does all your work go! You seem to be shooting very often and producing a large body of work yet no website. From the outset this looks like someone who is not shooting for a commercial or business view. So, what’s the drive, where is the motivation and why no website ?
I’m unsure why having a website to showcase my work would make a difference to my photography. I have had one in the past but it didn’t really reflect what I am about. I’d like to set up a new one purely for marketing, but I’m already so busy that I think I’d be shooting myself in the foot – maybe. I’ve half-heartedly tried to redesign one but I’ve not been impressed with ideas submitted to me as yet. I’d rather collaborate on building a site with someone who actually gets me, rather than somebody who just wants to extract my hard-earned cash from my pockets. Regarding my work, I think most people only see what I currently post on social media, so it’s easy to think that I’m restricted to the glamour market; although that has become an increasingly larger part of what I do simply because it pays better than trains and trees!
Motivation is an interesting question, I’ve thought about it sometimes, and those who have shot alongside me will know that I don’t take the easy option, and like to challenge myself; to give an analogy, two stonemasons may both possess the same chisels, but the one mason has a vision and knows exactly what he is trying to create before he selects an appropriate chisel from the box, the other mason may simply chip away until he reveals his work – they are entirely different approaches, neither right or wrong, but I would like to think that I master my camera rather than let the prowess of a Japanese engineer dictate to me, so I suppose in many respects I’m simply satisfying myself, and being more sagacious in the use of my chisels. Key to me is I don’t feel like I’m in competition with anybody, which I feel is part of why this industry, whether shooting commercially or for pleasure is littered with the caustic and malevolent attitudes that seem to prevail. Another part of what I enjoy, and do rather well is teach others, I’m a qualified educator and run bespoke one-to-one tutorials and workshops, which are generally well subscribed to.
We spoke before at the need for a ‘style’ or look. Over the years you have most certainly pushed the depth of focus and soft colours mixed with the more provocative posing and content. Is this contrast something which was thought though or just happened. Are we ever going to see a change in this style ? Landscape photography or something ?
I’d like to think my photography ‘style’ is a process rather than a product of evolutionary osmosis. The key thing that really changed my photography per se was my mindset shift and philosophy behind my approach to it and how I use ambient light; I also care much less about what other people think now too. I set my own standards, and I’m now far less frustrated and gain far more enjoyment from what I do because of that. I guess having a specific style can be a double-edged sword, on one hand I get people telling me that they can instantly recognise my work from a thumbnail, to the other end of the spectrum where people must not bother looking for the same reason. Again, it’s a free world, I’m not seeking to please anybody else, but if I do, then all the better.
Regarding my process, I’m now far more deliberate, and apply my own philosophy to capturing images, moods, narratives, emotion; I have my own little techniques for capturing that ‘just-so’ look and expressions that typify my work, but essentially I pretty much start with the end in mind, deconstructing mental images in my head to guide how I will reconstruct them in reality. I do enjoy adding bits of quirkiness to my work, just to ensure it doesn’t all become much of a sameness. That could be via dynamic posing, provocative narratives, the use of location and props. I have also set up my own colour profiles in-camera to achieve the soft muted tones synonymous with my natural light images. I think they are what I am more recognised for. As for changes in ‘style’, well I can actually see incremental changes in my current work, my workflow, and outputs… I don’t think I’ll ever be so complacent or arrogant as to think that I have ‘arrived’, I’m on a journey not at my destination.
Jack and Purpleport – For many people who follow your work, they follow you there. What is it about the site which makes you pretty much use it as your sole outlet ?
I’m actually on a number of different ‘platforms’ with healthy followings, it’s just people don’t know it, that’s for no other reason than I’ve not really promoted them. I think my Purpleport ‘followship’ is dwarfed by my Instagram following (jackrussell_photo). I guess the main difference is that Purpleport followers are within the creative photography sector, either as photographers, models, designers, make-up artists, etc, so in some ways, their opinions and support carries greater credence, whereas Instagram, who knows? Ultimately, if people like my work, from what ever slice of life, it’s all good and I appreciate it. I think of all of the modelling/photography sites that I’ve been on, Purpleport is probably the slickest and has some really clever design features built into it – hats off to the owners and designers. There are obviously things I’d differently, but it’s not my train set, and I’m happy to throw my images up for others to enjoy.
Other photographers, forums and gossip. I guess we can just be direct here – there are some people who are not a fan of Jack, and some people have been very vocal about it. It is safe to say that in the world, not everyone is going to get one with everyone. Does it bother you that Jack Russell has the ability to polarize people and what do you think it is that causes this ?
Polarise? Ack, I certainly don’t think it’s anything that dichotomous… it’s just one of those things; human nature: and something I know you’re familiar with Dave. It used to bother me a little bit if I’m totally honest, but now it amuses me to occasionally hear and read third party stuff about me that even I didn’t know about myself. I can handle honesty and openness, that’s possibly part of the issue, in that I’m forthright, articulate, and quite direct. Nobody should have to apologise for who they are. Anyway, I pay little attention to silly tittle-tattle, I’d rather focus on the positive, producing pleasing work, and help others along the way where I can. There are of course those, for whatever reason best known to themselves, take delight in their own malevolence. Many years ago an old friend of mine said to me, ‘hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue’; that statement has become more prophetic and resonates more as time has gone on. That malevolence, in my opinion, is not exclusive to Purpleport, albeit an aspect that lets it down badly – fora in general can become quite vicious school playgrounds despite best efforts of the administrators to police them. I’ve learned not to even bother expressing an opinion on the forums lest be drawn into pointless semantic dissection and rhetoric which ultimately serves nobody well. …I’d rather let my work do the talking. Che Sara Sara..
Talking of rumors, I heard that once you get to 1 million page views on the Purple Port website, your hanging up your camera ? What does the future hold for you?
Well that’s too late, as I’ve by-passed well over a million views on Purpleport, it was a milestone of appreciation for me; it shows that it is being looked at. That can’t be a bad thing, can it? It’s certainly not harmed my business in any way. As for hanging up my camera, well I’ve been taking photos since I was a young boy, so I can’t see that happening soon, but I’m considering other projects right now. The future, well I’ve had some very attractive propositions, from agencies, syndicator agencies, and to shoot overseas. I’m currently considering invitations to Portugal, USA, and Mexico. I love travel, and want to develop some of my workshops overseas. I guess, I’d like to also investigate other avenues of sponsorship too. Ultimately I’d like to retain my creative independence and not become a slave to process for others.
What inspires you to create the images you do – Who are those artists you follow, if any?
Good question, very good question. I guess this is one of those moments where I upset the analogue puritans; I’m aware of the work of the past masters and pioneers of photography, Adams, Bourdin, Goldin, et al, we owe them a great debt of gratitude, and if you want to smell of funny chemicals and mess around with toners, emulsions carry on, it’s all good. But since the introduction of the DSLR, in my opinion, their traditionalist work has been dwarfed by the superiority that digital cameras, and modern software can bring when used creatively. Some of the stuff that inspires me is by young contemporary Russian photographers, who have no real preconceived notions of what is traditionally considered ‘right’, they are the ones not breaking the rules, but have no regard for them because they are too busy experimenting and making their own. Go check out Alexander Tikhomirov, Dmitriy Plyusnin, Georg Khrapov, or Ivan Warhammer for example. I also follow a cool Balinese photographer called Dewa Ariadi, (IG: fotoholik) who is consistently turning out some pretty cool images.
We spoke about you moving over to a CSC a while ago, did you make the switch to the Fuji X-T1 in the end or did you stick with your DSLR, if so, why ?
I’ve considered it, am considering it, and I guess, will continue to consider it until I’m fully convinced that’s it’s for me. I have a few cameras, even a lomography film camera made from a sardine tin, but I predominantly shoot with a now obsolete full frame Nikon D700, it’s pretty battered but serves me well and I’ve got good glass on the front of it. Whilst it certainly can help, I don’t think that having all of the Gucci gear makes a good photographer, if you can’t even read and utilise light to best effect, or understand composition, or master your tools, what’s the point. So I like to spend my money fairly wisely. However, I’m quite open to be sponsored by any camera companies who think I’d be able to showcase their equipment through my work.
Just a really simple one – are you a ‘Glamour Photographer?’ What sort of photography would you say you do?
Then this deserves a simple answer, no, I’m not a glamour photographer per se. It just happens to be what I’m doing most of currently. I have actually successfully shot food, sport, wildlife, landscapes, for example, but the artistry in those genres is far less liberal and creative, although photographing a rare orchid, rare bird, or eating amazing food that tastes as good as it looks still carries a good buzz.
The photography and photographers worlds can full of interesting stories and drama. What are some particular high lights and low lights that the photography circus has brought to your doorsteps ?
For me it’s meeting some of the incredible and positive people out there, some with immense talents, their journeys and stories they tell. You never know the story behind the next person you meet… Some have just blown me away. My shoots are fairly laid back affairs, I enjoy getting to know who I am working with and capturing part of their character and soul. I try not to dwell on the few negatives to be honest – there is always somebody somewhere who wants to spoil the party, let them carry on in their own ‘space’, not mine.
And finally, what are the 2 things you wish you knew at the very beginning when you picked up your camera ?
- How expensive and time consuming it was going to turn out to be. There is an old saying that goes ‘if you want to make a little bit of money from photography, start with a lot’. I’m also lucky that I don’t need much sleep, I’m generally up editing and doing admin by 0430am.
- Finally, I wish I had read Stephen Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’ much earlier than I did; by linking, and applying, the principles of these simple seven tenets have influenced the philosophy behind my work and how I approach it. As a result I have become far more efficient and effective in what I do.
Featured models: Jordan Ebbitt, Bexie Williams, Scarlett Kempson, Lauren Brock, Faye-Evette Betts & Romanie Smith