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power moves Santa Fe photographer Kate Russell gives still images a dynamic edge

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ate Russell’s photographs operate on different levels, offering us both a literal read of the scenes she shoots and a deeper, more penetrating look that often takes us into uncharted territory. At first glance we see a variety of offbeat settings in which the protagonists engage in sometimes puzzling but artistically satisfying poses and activities. A deeper dive tells us that there’s more to the story, that the subjects in question aren’t merely posing for the camera but are responding to Russell’s subtle direction in ways that reveal information about their lives and challenges. Russell’s unique ability to portray her subjects’ backstories in a single shot makes looking at her work at once fun and thoughtprovoking. While she first achieved success shooting architecture, portraits, and travel topics, her natural curiosity and her penchant for delving deeper into the scenes before her have elevated her work to a new level. Each shot tells an enigmatic story that is both visceral in its impact and subtle in its implicit commentary. Russell has always been adept at finding intriguing angles and unexpected juxtapositions to liven up her shots, but she had reached a point in her career where she felt an artistic—perhaps even moral—need to offer more. “Instead of just using my skills for standard advertising and editorial purposes, I want to use those skills to give vision and voice to other artists.” That conviction has led her to create some singular work covering everything from lowrider culture to the internal workings of the Meow Wolf artist collective. “My personal projects are entirely about collaboration,” she says, “and about giving these artists the power of creative direction and messaging.” The series sampled in the following pages, which shows us performance artists at work and play, raises questions about the nature of art, feminism, and what it means to be an artist on borrowed land. “I like the conceptual stuff,” Russell says, “because it helps me portray these performers’ artistry. It’s a way to introduce them to more people. I’m always looking for ways to expand the impact of their art through still images.”

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