It was more than 10 years ago when we first worked with acclaimed photographer Russell James. He had been commissioned by Hermès to create a site-specific installation at the Academy of Art in Tribeca. James, already pushing his fashion photography into an experimental fine-art genre, was exploring the theme of the “nomad” in his photography at the time. He conceptualized the installation as “islands” of visual experiences that would lead people through a journey through five elements. I remember creating floor-to-ceiling prints of James’ pictures to emulate wall enclosures through which people could walk into different “rooms” of his gorgeous photographs. We printed his images as large as possible on materials that ranged from copper, aluminum and acrylic to mirrors and silks. At a time when many photographers were still questioning the future of high-resolution digital imagery, James experimented freely with our latest digital printing techniques to deliver an experience that went far beyond the experience of his photography on glossy magazine covers. The success of the exhibition demonstrated his unique ability to channel his intuitive connection to the earth and his nomadic spirit into a visual spectacle that would both aesthetically and metaphorically transport the audience into another world.
A decade after that experience, it came as no surprise when I discovered that James had channeled his versatility with art and culture into a wildly successful creative organization that collaborates with indigenous artists from around the world. Nomad Two Worlds, a project which began as a “steeply messaged artistic collaboration” between James and Australian indigenous artists, is now a formal organization that works to “raise awareness of the beauty and rich cultural history of indigenous people worldwide and to collaborate with indigenous artists to create culturally relevant contemporary art and consumer products to provide sustainable economic opportunities to the artists.”
If you were to catch James on one of his regular gigs when he’s shooting supermodels for campaigns for the world’s biggest glamour brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Donna Karan, Revlon and Rolex, among many others, you’d be hard-pressed to link him to the man who spends much of his time traveling to remote parts of the world developing multidisciplinary art projects with indigenous artists. James is working on a mission to preserve what he considers the most pressing cultural issue of our time—preserving our threatened links with the native cultures we come from so we can remember our “individuality as people.” James’ works have appeared in leading publications such as Vanity Fair, W, Digital Photo Pro and Sports Illustrated, and have been published in several fine-art books by world-leading art-book publisher teNeues Publications, including the 300-page retrospective Russell James (2009) and his sequel V2 (2010). In August 2007, James was awarded the Hasselblad Masters Award, and in 2009, he joined the prestigious ranks of Irving Penn and Helmut Newton as a resident artist of Camera Work, the world’s leading gallery for contemporary photography and vintage master works. In September 2010, a series of James’ images was inducted into the “fashion” museum tour alongside such greats as Richard Avedon, William Klein, Peter Lindberg and many other master photographers of our time.
James’ stardom in the fashion industry won him many admirers, including Donna Karan, whose foundation Urban Zen became fully dedicated to supporting Nomad Two Worlds since its very inception. Karan explains, “Nomad Two Worlds is a creative, multimedia collaboration I became involved with two years ago with the brilliant photographer, Russell James. Nomad Two Worlds is everything Urban Zen is about and frankly everything I’m about. Connecting the dots between the past, present and future. Expressing the artistry and soul of native cultures through the technology and creativity of modern artists.”
Nomad Two Worlds was invited to Haiti by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) together with Donna Karan and Urban Zen to help stimulate the artisan community after the devastating earthquake. James had been developing art in Haiti since 2009, collaborating with Haitian artists including Pascale Monnin, Debreus Lherisson, Reinold Clerisier and Philippe Dodard to create beautiful contemporary art forms that combine James’ photography with traditional sequin work, acrylic painting, beading and sculpting.
In November 2011, the CGI invited Nomad Two Worlds and Urban Zen to create an outdoor exhibition of the artworks they created with indigenous artists in Haiti as part of their “Invest In Haiti” forum organized by the CGI, Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Haiti. James, who has been running Nomad Two Worlds as a nonprofit organization, turned to my son, Mike Duggal, for assistance in reproducing these artworks for the exhibition. Given the opportunity to assist the rebuilding and economic empowerment of Haiti after the devastating earthquake, my son and I were only too eager to help James in any way we could. We digitally reproduced all of the 30 works of art on large-format fabric through a dye-sublimation process, in which the image gets permanently transferred to a substrate, making it perfect for outdoor conditions while retaining the pictures’ high resolution. The pictures were hung like paintings across the periphery of the forum’s venue.
“The combination of our images and Duggal Visual Solutions’ high-quality printing brought a beautiful array of color, style and design to the exhibition that President Clinton felt was an important visual component to the forum,” stated James.
Recently, Oprah requested several of the printed pieces to be used as backdrops for a documentary she’s making to support Haiti. I’m extremely proud of James’ and Donna Karan’s commitment to highlighting these poignant shifts in our global culture, and I’m excited that Duggal could contribute to this phenomenal convergence of fashion, entertainment, philanthropy, cultural preservation and economic empowerment through the lens of a camera. This is what drives each one of our 300 employees at Duggal and makes our journeys truly meaningful as we continue to support artists and artisans who create to change the world.