Jay Russell is an image-making polymath. Rather than confining himself to one particular outlet, he enjoys working across a mix of mediums instead. “I would say I’m about half-director, half-photographer right now,” he says, “or I do half-video, half-stills.” Originally from a town close to Birmingham, Jay is currently based in Camberwell, south London, and began his career in the realms of documentary photography. These days, however, his work transcends the still image as he covers all sorts from music videos to album covers, script writing to fashion editorials. “And I like it,” he continues to tell It’s Nice That. “I’ve realised over the years that I can get bored quickly, so it’s good for me to keep mixing it up.”
Like many people growing up, what first drew Jay towards the medium of photography was the ability to easily document his surroundings, capturing his himself and friends in his hometown. And now, “more than ever”, photography is “such a given” and has been made more accessible due to the arrival of smart phones. “I’m not quite a millennial, so I wasn’t born with a phone in my hand, but I wasn’t far off – and I just kept at it”. Years later, and he’s snapped photos and editorials for the likes of Balmain, Fashion Retail Academy, Notion, Nike and Dazed, a fashion campaign for adidas, and he’s directed music videos for artists such as Fredwave and Sarah Meth.
Having branched out into other aspects of picture making, this means that Jay can enjoy the more collaborative nature of his work. Especially since the world has re-opened, meaning that he can share his films and imagery to the public at exhibitions, film nights and shows. “I like the collaborative aspect of my video and film work, that’s what drew me to it the most,” he adds. “Photography can sometimes be you throwing ideas to yourself, where with film, there are more people at the table which I really like.” Jay clearly thrives in a team-working environment, meaning he can bounce ideas around with those he’s working with. Take the recent Fredwave video as an example; the film started off with himself and his friend “trying to throw a phone down Rye Lane while it was recording”, which, unsurprisingly, ended up badly for his phone. “It was a dumb way of trying to show the chaotic nature of the street," he says. "I actually broke my phone doing that, so we built a more sturdy rig when we developed it or the Fred video.”
Meandering through his portfolio, you’ll notice a consistently strong tone that shines throughout; one that’s earthy, deep and infused with a hint of sepia. The thing is, Jay doesn’t think he has a definitive language – “as I have always found it hard to pin down my own ‘style’” – but clearly there’s a strong equilibrium running through all of the branches of his image-making. Aesthetics aside, there are also some reoccurring themes that tend to prop up: like that of suburbia and the British landscape, “focusing on the nuance of the everyday,” he says. “I think that’s what most of my work draws on.” Sarah Meth’s Dead End World exemplifies this as it captures the quintessentially British, from desolate beach scenes to abandoned cafes, dogs scrapping, busy market stalls, pubs and games of pool.
In another update, Jay has just finished working on an editorial project with stylist Donnika which looks at the variety of trees found in London. Aptly named Boys & Tree’s, the work presents a series of well-lit shots of his subjects posing either in or amongst the shrubs of the city – a beautiful juxtaposition between the natural world, the human form and urban architecture. “I had an idea about documenting [the trees] somehow and went and scouted them all out,” he says, explaining how he asked his horticulturist friend to help name the saplings. “I think the form of the trees paired nicely with the human body, and I though it would be cool to do it as a fashion editorial, pairing the dynamic young male models next to the ageing trees.”
In the coming months, Jay reveals that he’ll soon be launching a short film that he’s written, and hopes to work on some more music videos too. He’ll also be based between both Amsterdam and London as of next March, where he’ll join his girlfriend who’s relocating to the city. “So hopefully creating some work over there too! Any Amsterdam peeps reading this, hit me up!”
Jay Russell: Tamarisk: Boys & Tree’s (Copyright © Jay Russell, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.