Michael Russell returned from his most recent expedition earlier this month. In Japan, he visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji, all with camera in hand.
“That was spectacular,” Russell said. “I had tried to learn Japanese, but it didn’t work. They have a very different alphabet.”
A dazzling image of steps leading to a temple is one of the fine-art photographs he made with his camera. It is among the work on exhibit at Lee’s Summit City Hall, 220 S.E. Green St., through mid-October.
That particular print on display is from a newer process in which the image is dyed onto highly polished aluminum sheet, Russell said. Other photographs on display are printed on canvas, giving them a softer, sometimes painterly look.
At his home darkroom, he also makes prints himself, although most often he’s shooting with a digital camera.
Russell works as a school librarian in Lee’s Summit, where he lived the last 14 years with his wife and children.
The job allows him to practice his art during the summer months. He’ll travel on photo expeditions, teach workshops and sell prints at art festivals.
He’s published a book on photography techniques and his pictures are also marketed by the stock photography company Getty Images.
In the past year his work has been published in Japan, France, Australia, Austria, Colombia, Korea, Russia, and extensively throughout North America.
Russell, 48, has been a photographer for 30 years, starting as a youngster learning the art from his father, who was a commercial photographer, shooting weddings and corporate events. His father taught him how to develop pictures in the darkroom.
“I still love to see the pictures coming up (from a blank paper),” Russell said.
He began selling his photographs in the mid 1990s.
Unlike his dad, Russell doesn’t shoot weddings, and concentrates on landscapes and wildlife as subjects. He’s roamed the West and is compiling a book of his images from the U.S. national parks and another about Kansas City.
“The great thing about landscapes is the mountains are there and they don’t move, mostly,” Russell said. “I want to put the viewer there, where it feels like you can walk into the image.”
Working on landscapes gives him time to compose, consider lighting and look for the dramatic photographs he wants to create, although he also has to be there at the right moment.
Sometimes he has to travel the world, and sometimes the image is nearly in the backyard, like one from James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, just outside Lee’s Summit.
Russell said he strives to capture the photograph he wants in the camera at the scene, so it takes a minimum of manipulation in the darkroom or with a computer for digital images.
It also takes planning and hiking. It’s good that Russell likes to head into the wilderness.
For one of his photographs, “Room with a View,” the work involved more than point and shoot.
Russell had to persuade park rangers in Utah to give him an idea where the ancient Pueblo dwelling was located in Utah. He still had to search for it. They were loath to make it public, because they feared too much traffic would spoil the ruin, he said.
He climbed as steep, rocky cliff to reach the dwelling.
Arriving late in the day, contending with cloudy sky, there was a break for an instant. He got the shot, and decided to hang around to see if he’d get any other breaks.
Light got dimmer and dimmer, and soon he was in the dark, without a sleeping bag or camping gear. He decided not to risk climbing down, so spent a not-so-comfortable night with his camera bag for a pillow.
At least he had company.
“There were bats, which were just flittering around, which I did not expect,” Russell said.
For more of Russell’s images, visit his website: www.michaelrussellphotography.com