Kevin Russ, a nomadic photographer with a lumberjack beard and 201,000 Instagram followers, once spent a month without touching his bank account.
“I was hopping trains, eating out of the trash, eating people’s leftovers,” he recalled at a recent visit to Four Barrel Coffee. “None of this was planned, of course.”
Russ was in San Francisco to sign copies of The Western States, his new collection of iPhone photographs borne out of a multi-year road trip through the American West. Though he could easily have passed as a Four Barrel regular – black boots, black jeans, unruly curls – Russ seemed like he might be more at ease in the lonesome landscapes of his photos than a Mission book signing.
Russ has not had a permanent home since leaving an “easy, comfortable” life as a portrait photographer in Portland, Oregon in 2012. Since then, he’s road-tripped and train-hopped through the West, unearthed $200 worth of gold in Alaska, and staked out sleeping foxes in British Columbia.
His photos, which feature some mix of horses, mist, and mountain huts, project a life of adventurous, panoramic solitude. Their beauty earned him thousands of followers and a grant from the photo software company VSCO.
Russ’s several dozen fans in attendance were young and Valencia-chic, with canvas backpacks and film cameras dangling from their necks. Many said they’d been following Russ for years.
“He’s the whole reason I got back into photography,” said freelance photographer Brock Sanders of Oakland. Sanders said he’d sold his gear and given up photography before discovering Russ, whom he judged a “popular dude in the community.”
Edgar Baotazar had driven two hours from Los Banos, California to get his book signed. Baotazar, whose shirt said “Fuck Diabetes,” called Russ “the inspiration for my photographs” and deemed the drive worth it.
After he winds down his book tour, Russ wants to go back to North Carolina to photograph a spoon-playing street musician. “Life is so much more exciting now–more than all five years of ‘normal’ life,” he said.