POET AS PHOTOGRAPHER / PHOTOGRAPHER AS POET
Albert Russo - novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet ..... photographer.
Of some fifty-five book publications to-date, eighteen of Russo's books are photographic essays. These titles include impressions from travels around the world, quirkiness and humour in human experience, studies of sculptures, autobiographical essays with photography as the medium, and more. Had Russo not had such a passion for art and literature, he would surely have had a fine career as a photojournalist for commercial publishers of travel books, travel guides and travel magazines. However, Russo's inclination towards the artistic and social elements of human predicament and expression, coupled with his love of poetry, has resulted in a myriad of publications which effectively express poetic and literary curiosity through poetry's modern-day "first cousin": photography. I use the word "curiosity" intentionally as Russo never forces his impressions upon us as an expression of "truth", but rather guides us through his own personal experiences and thoughts through visual exposés. Sometimes the progressive order of photographs in some of his books can seem somewhat illogical as Russo presents us with his own "connections" between impressions as he sees them as an artist - rather than grouping photographs in an order that an advertising executive or commercial travel book might choose. This is Russo's prerogative, his perspective .. and an important aspect of his own unique poetic expression.
Some of his photography books are combinations of texts and pictures, and others are without texts. The absence of titles is a bold artistic statement in itself, relying upon the strength and the progression of photographs themselves to tell the author's/photographer's personal story. Personally, I prefer the books that consist of photographs alone as I do not always relate to the accompanying texts and find them sometimes to be as annoying as I find signatures on the front side of paintings (when the signatures not only do not add to the overall work of art, but actually detract from the viewing experience). But this is a question of personal taste. Having a background both within visual art and poetry, I - like Albert Russo - am capable of understanding the "poetry" in the photographic presentations without explanation or added literary decoration. I think this is true for many (if not most) persons who enjoy photography books as works of art.
Russo's photographic essays to-date include: "A poetic biography", "Brussels ride", "Chinese puzzle", "City of lovers", "Granada", "En / in France", "Israel at heart", "Italia nostra", "Mexicana", "New York at heart", "Pasión de España", "Quirk", "Rainbow nature", "Saint-Malo", "Sardinia", "Sri Lanka", and his newest: "Body glorious" and "Norway to Spitzberg" (both released in 2007). These are almost exclusively full-colour photos .. a medium which Russo plays with combining childlike naiveté and curiosity for the unusual aspects of the "banal", and exciting excursions into the nature and the planet's overall cultural diversity, with a broad palette of professional techniques. Russo goes to great pains to mix traditional images with their contemporary partners and counterparts, and to play with exposure, light, filters and clarity/non-clarity in order to exaggerate aspects of the culture and to communicate his own personal experiences and sensations. I would like to see a photographic essay by Albert Russo, in which he translates his interactive communication between photographer/poet and subject to the medium of black and white photography. I am certain that Russo would find even more exciting nuances and enigmatic photographic puzzles through the usage of light, shadows, layers of greyness etc., which would even further enhance his natural highly-effective ability to penetrate beyond picture-taking .. and far, far into the inner energy forms and thoughts of his photographic subjects/objects and their surrounding environment/conditions.
Perhaps the most unusual photographic essay is his "A Poetic Biography", published in 2006. The book is exactly what the title suggests: a collection of photographs of Russo, his family members and friends in various situations and environments, and over a period of several decades. Here Russo includes both photographs of people (colour and some black and white), photographs of letters and telefaxes, telegrams, articles on Russo as an author etc. - all without explanation or commentary. In this way, Russo uses the classic "first person" style of prose-writing to create an almost surrealistic glimpse into the inner reaches of Russo's personality, history, personal life, ambitions and self-identity. The book leaves us with a yearning to discover that personal aspect which Russo has not commented on, but which most other artists and authors usually make no bones about proclaiming ad nauseam: namely, his dreams .. and what his life might have been like otherwise.
Another fun and beautiful photographic exposé is Russo's latest book: "Norway to Spitzberg". I have previously reviewed this book and commented:
"Albert Russo's photographic essay illustrating a cruise ship voyage with the Costa Atlantica («La città ideale») along the coast of Norway, from the city of Bergen (birthplace of composer Edvard Grieg) to the top of the globe (Spitzberg) is fascinating not only because of his realizing the full circle of «post-post-realism» in modern photography, but also because Mr. Russo transforms the tourist «photo-stalker» experience into the creation of a professional visual compendium - combining dramatic and magnificent seascapes, fjordscapes and landscapes with the intimacy of still lifes, the humanity of people at work and play and in their quiet, alone moments, as well as the extremities of fauna, and indigenous peoples and their cultural expressions and living environments. It is not difficult to understand that Mr. Russo is also an accomplished poet and a master of prose-writing. The stories he tells in this photographic essay are not a mere show of proficiency as regards each individual work of art, but rather a dance of images as vivid as an operatic performance - full of passion, drama, silences, humour and music. Mr. Russo has employed a Canon digital Ixus 55 - 5.0 megapixels camera, with 3x optical zoom. His «eye» for discerning, and his talent for capturing the «photographic moment», the mastery of light and clarity vs. slight distortion etc. is a testament to his delicious sense of artistry as well as his empathy for the experience of being human."
Out of curiosity, I took contact with Albert Russo to ask him to comment on his love for photography. Here is his comment:
"In response to your question: I've always liked photography, from my adolescent years in Africa; actually I loved filming too and my 8mm or super 8mm films looked more like stills than films. People would complain telling me: "Oh God, five minutes on the same object, flower, trees, landscape, whatever, enough already!" Ever since my African days I've been taking photos with all kinds of cameras, from the standard Kodak box, to the famous German Minox, to the Fujica ST-605 (wonderful camera that accompanied me everywhere) - often using the Rexastar lens for close-ups) (1:3.5 - f- 135mm) alternately with the smaller but very friendly Minolta 70W Riva zoom, and now with the Canon digital Ixus 55. I have probably forgotten a few other cameras I had. Oh I used to take many colour slides in Africa (which I still have tucked away somewhere, and should think of printing the best). Poetry and photography? They are always closely related. A good picture tells a thousand things to the beholder if he/she pays attention to it, and the 'right' word suggests a thousand other things, that is why I never like to simply write captions under my photos. Actually now I do not wish to write anything at all, the photo must speak to you on its own."
In conclusion, I would recommend that art photography and poetry enthusiasts take note of this talented artist. As one who has reviewed his collected poetry and read many of his novels, short stories and essays, I can attest that his literary talent complements his photographic expression. Albert Russo is artistically self-integrated in all of his creative disciplines.
A bilingual author, Albert Russo writes in both English and French, his two 'mother tongues'. He is the recipient of many awards, including among others The American Society of Writers Fiction Award, The British Diversity Short Story Award, several New York Poetry Forum Awards, Amelia Prose and Poetry awards and the Prix Colette. He has also been nominated for the W.B. Yeats and Robert Penn Warren poetry awards.
His work, which has been praised by James Baldwin, Pierre Emmanuel, Paul Willems and Edmund White, has appeared worldwide in a dozen languages. His African novels have been favourably compared to the work of V.S. Naipaul, who was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. He is a member of the jury for the Prix Européen, and sat in 1996 on the panel of the prestigious Neustadt Prize for Literature, which often leads to the Nobel Prize.
ALBERT RUSSO'S BOOKS:
His last publications in English: ZANY, ZAPINETTE NEW YORK, MIXED BLOOD and ECLIPSE OVER LAKE TANGANYIKA, all three published by Domhan Books (NY); THE BENEVOLENT AMERICAN IN THE HEART OF DARKNESS (which contains his three award-winning African novels: THE BLACK ANCESTOR, MIXED BLOOD and ECLIPSE OVER LAKE TANGANYIKA), OH ZAPERETTA! (the hilarious series, taught at the Catholic University of Paris), and THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, VOLUMES 1 & 2 (THE COLLECTED STORIES - which has just won an honorable mention at the Writer's Digest International Awards - and THE COLLECTED POEMS, the latter with Xlibris (USA)), along with about 20 books of photography; in French: L'AMANT DE MON PÈRE (Ed. Le Nouvel Athanor), ZAPINETTE CHEZ LES BELGES, L'AMANT DE MON PÈRE: JOURNAL ROMAIN, l'ANCETRE NOIRE and LA TOUR SHALOM, all four published by Editions Hors Commerce (Paris). His novel SANG MELE will be published in February 2007, this time by Editions Gingko, in Paris.
- Adam Donaldson Powell