Sheridan Prize for Art

The 2021 Sheridan Prize for Art Archive

Russ Aguilar has been dedicated to photography since he received his first 2 megapixel Olympus point-and-shoot at the age of 10. Now 31, he is a career environmental educator and dedicated macrophotographer who focuses on native invertebrates of San Francisco and surrounding areas. His work has been featured in two San Francisco galleries, and he teaches wildlife photography as a part of his work at an environmental justice non-profit in Bayview-Hunters Point.
Russ Aguilar is a naïve artist who has no formal training as an artist. His deep dedication to the craft is exposed by the very close images of the wild subjects he captures, using techniques developed over thousands of hours of practice.

Russ Aguilar

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User Statement

Wildlife Photography As Outsider Art Hyperrealism and Impressionism Collide in Tiny Subjects of our Urban Ecoregion My name is Russ Aguilar, and I am a queer Latino Bay Area native who finds inspiration in our smallest neighbors: tiny creatures living with us in the City. I have derived deep meaning from working with and serving communities in need, and I have been amazed by the resilience and beauty of the unhoused and other marginalized peoples in the Bay Area. I experienced homelessness and related traumas, and I have always found healing in nature, so it is toward nature that I aim my camera. My work interrogates modern photography by exchanging action for stillness, replacing grayscale with vivid color, rejecting great subjects for the tiniest, supplanting the man-made and new with the living, primeval, and ancient. I have no interest in drones; I shoot knelt, prostrate, in subjection and sway of the small.    Through images, I seek to create conversation with other forms of art that galvanize and touch me. Street photography, candids, and anthropological photographic works reveal to us the patterns of humanity and the glories of the mundane. My subjects are all photographed in the wild and with minimal disturbance from the artist, grounded in realia.  As art’s forms have grown and changed, abstraction, impressionism, and expressionism have gained prominence. My work incorporates abstract shapes and visuals, providing only a narrow banner that is defined and clear. Yet it rebukes abstraction by drawing the viewer to a sharply delineated subject. By enlarging invertebrates, bathed in light and color, it pulls tight the interplay of twin sensations, repulsion and attraction, horror and wonder, fear and love. In California, human systems have undergone rapid transformation  —  Native peoples decimated by disease, the Missions and ranchos that followed, gold before railroads and skylines  —  so too have the natural systems on which we rely. The waters are bottled in reservoirs, migration corridors have turned to interstates, greenery once uninterrupted is restricted to parks and preserves. My work focuses on landscapes that have been changed and carved by human hands, featuring native and introduced species; we the living create history, and our histories are manifest in the land, soil, air, water, and all forms of life.  As each invertebrate goes through distinct life stages, so must we all to survive in a place as dynamic as this. My art asks the viewer not to rush through either these stages or spaces in our physical geography, but to stop and look closer.