For this project, “Floating World,” I’ve been photographing the people and environment of giant cruise ships for the past four years. It’s a profitable and secretive business model that finds itself in the news more and more often these days—especially since March 2020, when the worldwide fleet was gut-punched by the COVID-19 pandemic and thrown into crisis.
The industry offers its customers a carefully packaged, Disneyfied escape from reality in a refuge of manufactured joy. I’ve found it compelling laboratory for exploring the nebulous border between our mundane, daily lives and a fantasy world like the cruise companies sell. On the ships, one can find irony, humor, denial—and perhaps a metaphor for the way we consume nature and live our lives today in a post-truth culture.
I’m drawn to the situations where the veneer of elegance seems a bit thin and that irony begins to show through. I feel a disquiet behind the façade, surrounded by the luxury and gratification that distracts from the realities we face on our return to shore—and also feel conflicted by the allure the comfort and indulgence has for me, spending so much time on the ships.
In “Floating World,” I try to express these feelings with an honest eye and slightly hyper-real images that invite the viewer to ask, “Is this truth?” I want to explore how photography, with its past firmly rooted in the assumption of veracity, might navigate today’s waters where it’s often difficult to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality.
Russell C. Banks is a documentary photographer working out of Windsor, Colorado. He earned a photojournalism degree at the University of Texas at Austin, then moved to El Paso to work at the University’s El Paso campus news bureau. Outside of work, he often carried a 4x5 field camera into the deserts and mountains of the Southwest, and brought that large-format sensibility to his Infant Series project, published in the second edition of the Time-Life Library of Photography book, “Photographing Children.”
He continued his career in higher ed management with nearly 30 years in Portland, Oregon, before resigning to work full-time on his personal photography.
Today, most of his attention goes to the Floating World project, where he explores the fantasy world of giant cruise ships. In the past year, his work has been accepted for several juried exhibitions, including the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado, A. Smith Gallery in Johnson City, Texas, PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont, the SE Center for Photography in Greenville, South Carolina and the Texas Photographic Society.