An exhibit of photography that may elicit a variety of reactions in Indian country opens today at Stephan Weiss Studio in New York City. Called “Seminole Spirit,” it consists of highly stylized photos taken in the wetlands and swamps of Florida by Australian shooter Russell James, who is most famous for his photography of Victoria’s Secret models. A number of the photos feature Victoria’s Secret Angel Behati Prinsloo, while others depict landscapes, alligators, and the Seminole people.
The project was undertaken in cooperation with the Seminole Nation of Florida, under the guidance of Chief James Billie and medicine man Bobby Henry.
“I didn’t want [Prinsloo] to be representative of the Seminole, of course,” James says, according to Gotham Magazine. “But I went to Seminole land and I shot things like the way they build, the way a man holds his hands—all these things [about] Seminole culture. Then I took Behati and created a fantasy character that I call Seminole Spirit. She represents this thing, this movement that I call relevant, modern, cultural, all of these things combined, and that’s how Seminole Spirit came about.”
James, Prinsloo and Billie appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss the exhibit. The photographer said that the idea came to him after meeting Billie and hearing the story of “a Tribe that faced incredible adversity, but they’ve emerged out of that adversity through great leadership, and it has always been about looking forward and going forward.” Billie spoke approvingly of James’ ability to capture the nature scenes and Seminole ceremonial grounds.
In addition to his work with Victoria’s Secret, James is known for his Nomad Two Worlds project, which works with indigenous and marginalized peoples, particularly artisans, to create sustainable products and economic opportunity.
The 10 nude photographs of Prinsloo, which represent less than one-third of the material, are bound to grab the most attention. Of the experience, Prinsloo who is currently ranked 15th on the “Money Girls” list at models.com, said that “We painted my body gold as we tried to capture an idea we had of what ‘Seminole Spirit’ is […] I felt like a savage swamp mermaid on Seminole land, crazy.”
“Seminole Spirit” opens Tuesday, February 17, at the Stephan Weiss Studio, 711 Greenwich St. in New York City. The series will then be on display in the same space Feb. 20-26. The photos on this page represent a small sample of the online “Seminole Spirit” gallery at Artsy.net.