J O H N R U S S O
Interview} Ken Waller
Portrait of John by} Tas Limur
Portraits by} John Russo
KW: For your latest book, “100 Making a Difference,” you traveled the world photographing Humanitarians and Philanthropists who are making a difference in the lives of others. How did this project come about?
JR: After the success of my first book, “About Face,” I wanted to do another charity book. Since there are so many incredible charities, I was like, why focus on one when I can focus on 100? Little did I know how overwhelming the undertaking would be.
KW: What were the challenges of finding, contacting, and photographing so many subjects?
JR: I think I knew it wouldn’t be easy from the start, but honestly, I had no idea until I dove into the project. We first made a list of people who were doing great things. I assembled a team at my office to work on the project. Thank God I had an incredible staff to help with this project. Jason Bush, Stephanie Szeto, Tas Limur, Gus Dering, Justin Miller, Asia Willis, and Rachel Hill all worked so hard on this. Without them, the book would not have happened. I also had some friends jump in to help: Nick Ferroni, Kate Moulene, Elizabeth Chambers and Irena Medavoy. They connected me to so many amazing participants.
Then the biggest obstacle was getting to the people you wanted in the book. Ahh, that is probably the most difficult aspect of doing a book, especially with celebrities involved. Our team had to reach out to their reps. Keep in mind these reps get thousands of requests. So you have to be super persistent and keep contacting them. Thankfully I have relationships with most reps. That is not to say the “ask” was easy. It was not. Most of the publicists I have worked with over the years were happy to help and bring this to their clients; sadly, some did not. It was a huge eye-opener and a big lesson learned on my part. But hey, I just rolled with it and moved on to other people.
The people that we wanted in the book are, for the most part, very busy, and most do not live in LA. So lots of travel around the globe. It was a lot.
KW: Did you have a sponsor finance the project? I can see it getting very expensive to travel around and photograph talent… Hair/makeup and styling etc.
JR: Sadly, no; in terms of the production, photoshoots, and writing, I financed it all myself. I could have bought a house in Aspen for how much this book cost me! Ha! But honestly, it was so worth it. I figured this would be my contribution to all of the charities to raise awareness and much-needed funds. Graciously most hair, makeup, and styling was a donation. There are some great people out there who want to help great causes.
KW: Charity books are sometimes difficult to find a publisher. How did you find a publisher?
JR: Yeah, that’s the million-dollar question. I reached out to many publishers, and all were interested. Then I told them it was a charity book and that all of the proceeds were going to charity and no one wanted to touch it. I get it, everyone has to make money, so I was not surprised or annoyed with them. One of the gracious and super generous participants, Quinton Van Der Burgh, stepped up and said I’d love to finance the publishing. Thank God for him. He helped create a beautiful, timeless piece. I am forever in debt to him for his generosity.
KW: What were one or two of the more memorable shoots?
JR: Geez, there were so many. But I would have to say traveling to Zurich, Switzerland, to photograph Elton John for the Elton John Aids Foundation. The shoot happened so fast; his team literally gave me three days to plan and fly to Zurich. But it was Elton, so you know, hell or high water, I was making that happen. He was so gracious and asked my assistants and me to stay for his concert and gave us front-row seats. And then I was in London photographing Livia Firth for the book; she mentioned Gisele and Tom; she literally called them in front of me. The next thing I knew, I was going to Montana to photograph them for their foundations. We went to their home and spent the day with them. What an incredible experience!
KW: I see you have some big names, Serena Williams and Eva Longoria, that wrote forwards for the book. How did you get them?
JR: I have been photographing both Eva and Serena for years. They are both great girls! Always willing to help with a great cause. They are both huge humanitarians and have literally devoted their lives to Philanthropy, so it was fitting for them to write forwards. I was so honored when they said yes! You know they are “true friends” when they show up for you. And they did just that, show up for me. I will never forget it. We have three other forwards, Irena Medavoy and Nicole Avant. Both jumped at the chance to help by reaching out to their friends to make to set up shoots and interviews. I absolutely love these women. And Quinton, our publisher, wrote a beautiful forward on the work he has been doing in South Africa. I am so humbled by all of them for taking the time to help make this book happen.
KW: Is there anyone you wish you could have shot for the book but, for whatever reason, did not?
JR: Yes, of course, a bunch. If they are celebrities, the majority of the time, the request never gets to the talent, so that’s unfortunate. But hey, I get it. I’m never discouraged because I know I’ll photograph them for the next book! The confidence is real! Lol
KW: Will there be another book? A series two? It’s such a great concept, and I don’t foresee a shortage of people doing great things.
JR: You nailed it, there is no shortage of people doing great things, and I want to continue bringing awareness to great causes globally. We need to focus on these amazing people and how they are making a difference. So the answer is, Yes, there will be many more books and maybe even a documentary! I’ll just put that in the universe; thank you.
KW: Is there a cause or charity that you are passionate about?
JR: There are a few, but it breaks my heart when people are homeless. We live in the richest, most plentiful country, yet people live in tents under bridges. It’s mind-blowing to me that our governments don’t develop a plan so that no US citizen will ever have to be homeless. I am also passionate about caring for the elderly. Our country does not honor the elderly as other countries do. I want to work on a project that brings awareness to this problem.
KW: You are one of the world’s most famous and recognizable photographers. You have been at the top of the game for nearly 20 years. How do you stay relevant in such a competitive field?
JR: Well, I don’t know about all that but thank you for the praise. Look, I love what I do at the end of the day. I mean, I really love what I do. It’s fun and exciting, and I get to travel the world. I feel very blessed to be where I am. Super thankful to say the least. I’m not in competition with anyone; people hire me for what I bring to the table and hire others for their creative eyes. There is so much work out there for everyone. I have stayed relevant by consistently producing great work that I am proud of, and most importantly, I am not an asshole. I am super happy at every shoot, and if I’m not, I will win an Oscar for acting like I am. Lol
To learn more about the book, follow @100MAD To purchase the book go to @fieldandfort