New York based photographer Michael David Adams took to painting as a creative outlet at a young age. As he grew up and further developed his art, he felt drawn towards photography which would later become his primary medium to share his vision with the world. And it wasn’t long before he had carved his way in the colourful world of fashion photography thanks to his artistic prowess and his ability to elicit emotions through his pictures. His work has been published in numerous international publications like Vogue (Nippon), Cosmopolitan (Croatia) and Vision (China) among others.
You started your creative journey as a painter. What led you to turn to photography for artistic expression?
Painting was a creative outlet for me to express my emotions, thoughts and the questions I had about the world, life and myself in general. It helped me to come to terms with a lot of issues in my life (and still does). When I was young, I found that I enjoyed working with friends. I would position them to do certain things and created scenarios to photograph them. I suppose this is where it all started, although I didn't know it at the time. Later in life, while working with a friend who had just finished her makeup school, I was taking pictures for her portfolio and that is when it all came together for me. Beauty and Fashion photography was my destiny.
Are you a self-learnt photographer or have you had formal education in photography?
Back when I began thinking of photography as a career, I was mostly shooting for fine art purposes. I enrolled in a six month ‘Intro to Photography’ course to better learn the mechanics of the camera and to get some experience in the dark room. Everything else has been self-taught or learned while assisting.
Was it difficult as a young photographer to find your niche or were you always interested in fashion photography?
After helping my friend with her portfolio, it was very clear what I wanted to do. It felt incredibly natural to be shooting fashion and beauty images and I knew this is where my life needed to go. I experimented with different styles and concepts after that but I am very happy with where I am heading.
Beauty and Fashion photography was my destiny.
Do you remember your first professional photography assignment? What was it about?
Actually, I don't. It depends what you define as "professional". A lot of my work was published right away when I began shooting and I was making an income shooting models very early on [in my career].
Your website says that you try to “create images that transcend the sum of their elements”. Can you elaborate some more on that statement?
Well I believe that considering a photograph pertains to what the viewer sees and what they take away from it. If the viewer looks at a picture and the only thing the individual sees is a person standing there looking back at them, or doing something odd, then that is all that the picture is to them and maybe to others. But if someone looks at a photograph and is moved, if the person feels emotions due to the picture itself and/or can visualise a story-line pertaining to that photo in his/her mind, then the photographer has captured or created a moment in time that transcends the elements of that picture.
When shooting accessories, is it essential to match the models’ personalities with the products?
If you mean matching the product to how the model looks then yes. The products have to look natural or be appropriate for the model. On shoots, the stylist always brings plenty of accessories to match with the model. Or if you are shooting a particular accessory for a job, you would look at many different models to pick one that fits the vision for that piece.
Your photography has been widely appreciated for its aggressive yet sensual characteristics. How does one get these distinct elements together in their photographs?
I don’t think you could actively try to make these things happen if they are not a part of who you are. It comes out of my direction and the emotions I try to elicit from my models while shooting. It's about how I ask them to interact with each other and what I tell them to think about while shooting. When it comes to clothing, if a piece has motion to it, it is again how I direct the stylist to work with the clothing or place the fans to give lift and action and more importantly know/feel when to press the button to catch that moment.
What inspires you as a photographer?
I get inspired by many things like classic and modern art, culture, nature and even religion and politics. It really depends on what I'm shooting and the mood I'm in. On this one shoot I did for SOMA magazine (Zero Gravity), I was inspired by colour combinations/ratios of black and white, like the ones on space shuttles and the architecture of certain buildings. So sometimes my inspiration has nothing to do with what I'm shooting. In such cases, it is only the emotion which is important.
If someone looks at a photograph and is moved... then the photographer has captured or created a moment in time that transcends the elements of that picture.
How much of your photography is spontaneous and how much of it is planned?
I try to plan for spontaneity. I know what I want to see in the end and I try to structure each shot such that the spontaneity is within a certain range. But after I get the shot I want, I'm usually open to other ideas and interpretations of what we are doing. Collaboration is very important as well.
Do you prefer colour photography over Black and White? If yes, tell us why.
Coming from a fine arts background and having worked in the darkroom with B/W, I think I have a special connection with the physical process of actually developing the film and making the prints. Someone once told me a quote that was something like “If the colour is not the important part of the photograph, the photo should be black and white.” I have always had that at the back of my mind although it's hard to always follow it. I love B/W just as much as colour, maybe more and I always tell myself that I need to shoot more of it.
You have mentioned that you love “the process of photography”, right from conceptualization to printing. So in your opinion how big a role does printing play in photography?
It is always important to keep the final output in mind, more so now than ever before. For some magazine work, the art directors may know the characteristics of the paper they print on and you may have to adjust the lighting accordingly because their white point is not that bright or they use a porous paper that has a little bleed to it. But it’s a little easier to compensate for these changes now than during the age of film because of the digital age and the flexibility it offers. Also, an advertising client may be looking to make huge prints in high resolution. So you need to know that before the job starts to be sure you have the correct equipment to be able to give them the file size and resolution that they need.