Davi Russo sees New York in the way only a person who has lived here his whole life can. The moments he captures are small, taken from a distance that encapsulates the whole scene. They are nuanced to the point of mistaken insignificance, but through every sweat-streaked mirror, every sidewalk shadow, Russo encapsulates a greater picture. It’s a puzzle you’re able to put together yourself when you’ve lived in this city long enough to speak its language. Because New York isn’t about the Soho shops, the Zagat-rated restaurants, the $9 cold-pressed juices. It’s a herd of people finding shelter from an impromptu rainstorm, how the paint peels off the subway walls, the knee-high socks of a passing stranger. That’s what this city is really made of.
Of course it’s not all muted minutia. The 36-year-old Russo has worked more commercially with everyone from Apple to Nike, Vogue to Vision, even Lady Gaga–all while publishing his own photobooks. SIXTY got a chance to interview one of downtown’s talented locals (Russo’s lived in the LES since 2002). We talk to the photographer/director about his life in New York and how it continues to influence his work.
What part of NYC were you born in?
I was born in the blizzard of 1978 in Manhattan Hospital, and grew up in Brooklyn in the neighborhoods of Marine Park, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and East Williamsburg.
What did your parents do?
My mother worked in sales, and my father was in the Air Force but has been in prison since I was 7. That is for another story.
Have you ever lived anywhere else?
Yes, I was taken away from New York around 7-ish for a few early years in my adolescence until 12 years old. I lived in a townhouse inside a cul-de-sac of a working class military community in the small town of Dover, Delaware, until I begged my mom for us to return back to New York.
How do you think being a New York native influences your work?
New York is my home. She has raised me into the type of person I have formed in to and continues to feed me both creativity and professionally. Working in the mix between art and commerce, NY keeps me sharp and slaps you when you either get out of line, too safe, or—worst—slow.
What’s your favorite New York moment?
Coming home after a long trip back into JFK—getting that first whiff of air while waiting on the shitty taxi line for a beat-up yellow and seeing that first glimpse of the ever-changing skyline on the drive back home. It is always breathtaking, and I find myself the same child staring through the window looking at her.
Where’s the best place to watch people in New York?
Right there in the streets. People on sidewalks are all in a participation of living theater. It’s always a runway of comedy and tragedy.
Is there any place in this city that you haven’t yet explored, having lived here for so long?
Absolutely, and that is what makes this city so special. There are so many corners to neighborhoods and streets that are left to be explored. Growing up in Brooklyn, there was always this silly resistance to venture into Queens. It was like we didn’t go there, and they wouldn’t come to us. And now, thankfully having grown past that and having a few good friends in parts of Queens, it makes it really tasty to explore.
What neighborhood of NYC excites you the most?
Hard to say nowadays with so much of the same stuff. The whole Wilamsburg’er/Bushwhack thing is kinda not my Brooklyn. And even though I would like to have a relationship with it, I just feel like a tourist in the worst way when I visit those neighborhoods now.
I’m kinda at a loss with where to move next that fits right for me in NYC. I definitely feel sadly priced out of my own city, even though I can consider myself one of the lucky working artists. I still can barely afford to pay rent, and that just sucks. So it would be exciting to see a real pushback at the trust fund kids and international wankers who are buying up all the properties and helping jack us out of our hoods, but that is just me rambling on about what won’t happen. This city is fueled on dollars.
Do you have a favorite year living in NYC? Why was it particularly good?
Hmmmmm. Maybe 1999. There was something weirdly nihilistic about Y2K and Times Square supposedly going to explode—all pretty much hyped from the media and into the general public during that winter. Everyone was kinda partying or just freaked out, like everything was going to break or be bombed, and maybe being 20 years old at that time was right in sync for those kinds of feelings right in tune with the city.
Favorite part of a New York spring and why:
Seeing that first day when the girls start showing a flash of some skin, the skirts get shorter, the necklines plunge down, the scent is in the air—it is by far the sexiest time to be in the city.
What does New York do better than anyone else?
Photos courtesy of Davi Russo.