By Supermodel Petra Němcová
Typically behind the lens, BELLA captured a rare look into the life of celebrity photographer John Russo. He revealed himself to good friend, model and philanthropist Petra Němcová, someone who has inspired him to recognize the beauty of life through his unique lens of graciousness and gratefulness. His new book project, 100 Making a Difference, is Russo’s way of passing along his passion for helping others.
You are one of the busiest men in Hollywood. Between flying all over the world to shoot covers of A-list celebrities and models for Vogue, GQ, and Harper’s Bazaar to major campaigns such as Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, and Gucci, you hold down quite a vigorous schedule. How do you manage your schedule and keep it all in check?
I try to keep a balance and not let work control every aspect of my life, which is so easy to let happen. I eat healthy and play a lot of tennis, which gives me the energy and endorphins to get through the day. My incredible team helps me get from A to Z, and remind me of all the little details I might have forgotten. To be honest, I really love what I do so I never feel like I’m working.
Tell us about your current book project 100 Making a Difference?
What inspired you to do this project? 100 MAD features philanthropists who have started a charity and devoted their lives to making a difference in the lives of others. We went into the book with certain people in mind, but since working on it we have discovered many more people who are passionate about making a difference. I was inspired by all of the celebrities and unsung heroes who continually amaze me with their dedication and generosity. I wanted to not only meet them, but to photograph them and share their stories with the world.
How do you choose the subjects you want to include in the book?
100 MAD features philanthropists working with all types of charities, but no matter the type, they have all devoted countless hours to their causes. We didn’t want to have the book full of celebrities who volunteered once at a soup kitchen (and called the paparazzi on themselves in the process!), but instead people who truly want to make a difference. We went into the book with certain people in mind, but since working on it, we have discovered many more people who are passionate about making a difference.
Which subjects for the book most intrigued you?
Each and every person is so fascinating in their own way! But actually, Petra, your story is so inspiring to me. Nmcov survived the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami by clinging to a tree for eight hours before she was rescued. Her then-finance lost his life. So many people, if they went through what you did, would become bitter and resentful. But you took a bad situation and turned it into the Happy Hearts Fund, and have brought education, awareness, and joy to so many children. In this book, there are so many more people with this type of dedication.
Who are your dream participants?
As far as celebrities, Oprah for Oprah’s Angel Network, Lady Gaga for Born This Way Foundation, and (selfishly!) Madonna for Raising Malawi. But
in reality, I enjoy photographing the unsung heroes just as much as the celebrities. They have devoted their lives to these causes, and it’s nice to give them a moment in the spotlight and show them they are recognized and appreciated.
Why are you so passionate about philanthropy?
I think my passion for philanthropy stems from the fortunate life
I have been able to live. I have a career I love, an amazing family and wonderful friends. Philanthropy inspires me because its goal is to help meet the needs of others in all different areas of their lives. It’s just the right thing to do.
Are there any people you wished you would have photographed for the book but who have passed away?
Would it be to cliché to say Mother Teresa? But really, she is one of the greatest examples of philanthropy in our day. Andrew Carnegie and his monumental efforts in promoting the arts have benefited millions, including myself. Also, Paul Walker and his work with Reach ut Worldwide was incredible. I hope to still photograph someone from his organization.
Who have been your most memorable photo shoots?
I’d have to say that shooting Gwyneth Paltrow in Paris for a cover of Vogue was one of my most memorable shoots. I have always been a fan of her work, both on and off screen. It was truly a defining moment in my career.
I see you have a very successful beauty line call John Russo. What made you start this business?
Where can we find your products? John Russo Beauty has been an evolution. Every photo shoot I work on has a hair stylist, a makeup artist, a wardrobe stylist, a manicurist, etc., and whomever I am shooting is totally pampered from the beginning of the shoot to the end. Most women will never get to experience this, but my beauty line’s aim is to give the everyday woman a glimpse into this fabulous phenomenon. If a woman wakes up and puts on my fragrance, nail lacquer, and/or lipstick, she will go throughout the day feeling like a million bucks. And when you feel good about yourself, you are sure to make amazing things happen!
You can find my line at luxury spas, hotels, and boutiques around the country. But visiting JohnRussoBeauty.com is the best place to start.
You travel extensively. What are your favorite places, and why?
My great grandparents are originally from Italy, so I have a very strong connection to Italian culture. The Amalfi coast will always be my favorite destination. I also have a home in Montecito, California, and even though it’s my own house, I will always feel like I’m on vacation when I’m there. It’s great to escape the chaos of LA!
What make you happy in life?
While a new house or new car might be fun in the moment, it’s my relationships with friends, family, and clients that bring real meaning and happiness to my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.
What inspires you?
I think an easier question might be “What doesn’t inspire you” because I can find inspiration in almost anything. I can be inspired by everything from the geometric shape of a plant to a scene from a music video. I also am very inspired by people and my interactions with them, whether they are friends or strangers.
What quotes are closest to your heart and keep you motivated?
You should see the camera roll on my phone – there are so many motivational quotes that I screenshot! Most of the quotes I’m drawn to have to do with finding the good in your life, and striving to be the best version of yourself. Two that I love are “It doesn’t matter if the glass is half empty or half full… Be grateful that you have a glass, and there is something in it…” and then on the same note, “While you were debating if the glass was empty or full… I sold it.” I think these show both aspects of my personality. I’m grateful for what I have, but I’m always hustling to make new things happen.
What are the most important life lessons that you have learned and that you feel would help others?
The journey to get where I am today was not easy. Throughout life, you will experience trials, roadblocks, and heartbreak, but these things mold us into the person we are meant to become. All the people in my book had the opportunity to make the hard decision or the easy decision, the obvious choice or the unexpected. It’s when we take chances and roll with the punches that we grow.
What’s next for John Russo?
Wow, what is next? World domination of some sort is on the horizon, I think! But really, I think I’ll stay on the track that I’m on and continue to make good things happen while surrounded by great people. I want to do a book called EPIC: The Work of John Russo that features some of my favorite photographs from the last two decades of my career. I would eventually like to have kids as well. I think fatherhood is an aspect of myself that I’ve never tapped into that could give me a new way of looking at life. Oh, and of course, meet a great guy to spend my life with. That would be the icing on the cake!
Supermodel PETRA NĚMCOVÁ has been featured in magazines, advertisements, and movies, experiencing her big break in 2003 as the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Perhaps her most important work followed in the wake of a tragedy she experienced one year later in Thailand, where she lost her fiancé in the 2004 tsunami. She was inspired to start the Happy Hearts Foundation, which brings hope to children affected by natural disasters. In this issue of BELLA, she sits down with good friend and world renowned photographer John Russo for an up close and personal interview with the man behind the lens.