“Tomorrow I’ll wake up, bright and early, and tender my book.” Said no one, ever. Ask Gail Russell: the beginning of her own book, she’ll tell you, harkens back decades.
“Spirit in Form: The Human Form in Nature and Other Places” is a lush compilation of Russell’s photography and poetry, sensuous in both imagery and words, and worthy of the wait. This weekend you will have two distinct opportunities to meet her and savor the voluptuousness of her work.
On Friday (Dec. 10), Russell will be hosting a Zoom book reading with audience participation, courtesy of the Society of the Muses of the Southwest. From 5-7:30 p.m. join the author as she reads, expounds, and takes your questions and comments. Visit SOMOS at somostaos.org for the link to join what promises to be an exceptional event.
Russell will then be hosting a reception and book signing at her studio in North Star Plaza, located at 65 NM-522, Suite A4, El Prado, on Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 11-12) from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. each day. Both events are free and open to all.
“Spirit in Form” follows Russell’s earliest photographic studies and includes previously unpublished black-and-white, sepia-toned and hand-colored images of male and female nudes. Her signature — original poetry, full of longing and guileless reflection — appears in the center of the book, a foil for both the appreciation of beauty she captured in her subjects and the layers of emotion and connection each invoked.
“This is the first photographic project I took on, back in the late ‘60s when I first picked up a camera,” Russell said. The inclusion of her poetry in the book was serendipitous, a decision she made after happening upon an old, dusty box of hers marked “Writing.” It had been forgotten over the years but, once opened, seemed clearly destined to be a part of the project.
And quite an undertaking it was. Back in the day, Russell’s decision to photograph male nudes was not a feminist stance but one of pure curiosity.
“I often imagined that most artists had a stash of nudes. The exposed human form is too provocative and lyrical not to address visually in all its uncovered power and vulnerability,” she recalled. But, “I was perplexed about the overwhelming quantity of nude females versus males.”
“This both puzzled me and incited me, so when I was first beginning to dive into photography I embarked on a project of male as well as female nudes, and enlisted friends, lovers, students: anyone that would be willing to be in my photographs.”
Fast forward to this year, and the progress of the book hinged upon one inescapable detail.
“If you are publishing a book of portraits, then you have to get a release from each of the subjects,” she explained. “And keep in mind how long ago some of these pictures were taken: things in the 1960s and ‘70s were very different than they are now.” Would she be able to locate all of the models? Would they agree to be included?
“That was a journey in itself and, luckily, I found everyone and they agreed to be a part of it. Some, of course, were understandably surprised but everyone was supportive.” One gentleman, now in his 70s, said he’d use the publication of the book as an opportunity to “torture his daughter,” Russell recalled, laughing.
“It was part of the magic of this journey for me,” she continued. “I reconnected with people who, at one time, I was close to and I was delighted to find most of us were still in the creative fields we’d all hoped we would land.” The aforementioned gentleman remains a renowned dancer and instructor, in case you are wondering.
Early press for the book’s release has been enthusiastic. John Nichols, author of “The Milagro Beanfield War” and “The Sterile Cuckoo,” called it “an imaginative, curious and lovely book filled with her gentle poetry and many enchanting visual surprises.” And acclaimed photographer Lenny Foster said it is “a collaboration of Gail’s soul, spirit, technical proficiency, and heart-centered imagination [creating] a beautiful marriage of words and image.”
“It was great getting such positive feedback from people whose own works I admire so much,” Russell said. “I’d like to thank not just John and Lenny, but Mirabai Starr and Sawnie Morris for their overwhelming support.”
“Now, to actually have the book in my hands — the physicality of it — is absolutely a dream fulfilled for me,” she said, noting gratitude to Kelly Pasholk who was tasked with “all the intricacies of getting a book published during COVID, and did so brilliantly.”
“Spirit in Form” is but the first, Russell hopes, in a series of books documenting her photographic career: a collection of coffee table books that she affectionately prefers to call “end table — or night stand — books.” Expect future collaborations to touch upon themes such as Native American life, temples and antiquities, and botanicals — all subjects close to her heart.
“I hope this work will inspire and encourage others, helping to reawaken the gifts of finding one’s creativity, and bringing their own individual beauty into this world.”