It's clear that Daniel Adams is a shutterbug of a different scope — rather than snapping food, furry friends or landscapes (there's nothing wrong with these either, don't get us wrong), he zooms his lens on the more human side of things. With him, the camera is not merely a tool but a social weapon he wields to incite discussions around gender, identity and cultural norms. Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer? Tell us about how it all started for you.
Actually to be fair, when I was younger I went through these phases of wanting to be a DJ and a hairdresser — I wasn’t very good at either. So I’m not sure if I could actually call those ‘career choices’ when I never really knew what I was doing! My parents bought me a little digital compact camera when I was in year 6 and I took it everywhere and took photos of absolutely everything and anything. Unfortunately, only after having it for a few months, it was stolen. It was only until I was in year 9 that I thought about the camera again and decided to ask my parents for an actual DSLR (which they made me pay half for).
And I think everything else just happened from there. After experimenting for the whole year, I finally realised that I found a medium that I could use to express my feelings and emotions without the need for me to explain them on my own. I’ve never been great at articulating myself so this was definitely a huge relief for me. From there, I think it was just a straight road down photography — I just became obsessed with my camera and never looked back.
Who/what are your constant sources of inspiration?
I get this question quite a lot and my sources of inspiration tend to come from everywhere and anywhere. My Instagram is full of artists who I admire, my Youtube account is full of documentaries from iD and VICE and my Spotify is filled to the brim with playlists of songs that I find aesthetically pleasing. I think that my inspiration comes from everyday life around me, usually from a specific situation or conversation or topic and then the visuals will come to me slowly bit by bit through different channels whether it be social media, books, television, conversations with other artists or through reading an article online. Your photoshoots range from exploring mental health issues to the LGBT community in Malaysia — how important is it for you as a photographer to capture these instances of the human condition?
I personally think it’s very important. I’ve always stuck to the idea that creating conversations is incredibly important, especially around somewhat ’taboo’ topics or around communities who are marginalised through society. If I create a project and get negative hate towards it, that’s alright because that’s still starting a conversation c you get people to voice out their opinions and someone else will reply to that and the conversation continues. You get people to start to talk about these topics that people never really talk about. From that, you can get a better idea of what the general opinion about these topics are and understand where this so called ‘hatred’ is coming from.
I think it’s important to me to give people who may not necessarily have a platform, to be able to tell their story and their experiences, especially those within marginalised sections of society. I think it’s important to speak out for the LGBTQ+ community because in no means whatsoever do I agree with the treatment of the community here in Malaysia. Myself and Catherhea created Dark Skin Is… to allow individuals from the dark skin community to speak about the issues they face because of their skin colour. It isn’t just a form of activism in a way, it becomes more of an educational platform, where people can look at these images and learn more about what other people have to go through because of their state of mind, sexuality, religion, race, colour of skin and so on.
Do you personally feel that anyone can be a photographer these days? Why?
I think anyone can take photos, but I don’t think anyone can be a photographer; it takes a lot more skill to be a photographer. Access to the camera has become a lot easier in recent times and the quality of these cameras has risen so much so I think anyone who has access to a camera in any form or shape, has the ability and chance to shoot nice photos. However, I feel like being a photographer requires a lot more knowledge on the elements of photography, understanding and formulating your own ideas and being able to understand your subject matter and what works best.
Which project has been the most impactful or memorable for you and why?
Dark Skin Is… I feel has been the most impactful not only on the audience, but on myself because of the process and the knowledge I gained from that project. Working with Catherhea was a pleasant journey and the amount of people I was able to meet and get to know was beyond anything I could’ve wished for.
However, the most memorable would have to be A Love Once Lost because that was a super personal project that allowed me to dig deeper into my own thoughts and understand myself a little bit more. What do you want people to feel when they see your works?
I want the audience to understand the power and strength that the individual in the image holds. I want the audience to be able to experience the same experiences I have and the same emotions I feel when I photograph these individuals and the topics that I am focusing on.
What is a common misconception people have about you?
That I’m intimidating! [laughs] I’ve heard this so many times over the past few years. I have a RBF so I realise that a lot of people might think I’m super up myself but I’m really a dumbass at heart.
I’ve always stuck to the idea that creating conversations is incredibly important, especially around somewhat ’taboo’ topics or around communities who are marginalised through society.
Your top 3 tips for aspiring photographers?
1. Practice practice practice — doesn’t matter if the photos turn out well or not, figuring out and understanding perspective, angles, light and colour through experimenting is so important in my opinion.
2. Find yourself a mentor who has the ability to give you advice (I say this because some people who you are inspired by may not have the mental or physical ability to take you under your wing due to other constraints). Find someone who you can befriend and learn from!
3. Take every opportunity you get but DO NOT UNDERSELL YOURSELF. Underselling your work diminishes your value and also destroys the market rate for everyone else. Establish yourself by understanding yourself, your work and your value.
How would you describe your artistic direction? Has it evolved?
I definitely believe that it has become a lot more polished over the years since I started, my work now is more visually intense and harsher than it used to be. It also is a lot more vibrant in terms of contrast and the strength of the colours used. I think my work also focuses on a lot of topics that are either personal or that I relate to more — I’ve started to inject more of myself into my work. However, I do feel like I have fallen into a bit of a stagnant phase in which my work is feeling a bit constant, so I’m trying to break free of that and figure out how to create new work by diversifying my techniques but still keeping a sense of me in the images.
How has being a photographer made you perceive the world around you?
I think it has done 2 things to me: it has allowed me to see the world from a more artistic view and therefore I feel like I can appreciate the beauty in the little things around me. I can walk past a run down area and find so many little pockets to admire and be content. However, the social media side of things has made me see the world as one big competitive business, in which everything is a race of time and energy to be the best. It’s something I’m still trying to work on and fully understand but it is exhausting at times and it’s difficult to break away from mentally.
What's the secret sauce behind the 'perfect' snapshot? How do you know you've managed to capture it?
I have to be completely honest with you and tell you that when I shoot, I don’t know the first thing I’m doing. I could never be a teacher of the arts because I would teach them absolute nonsense. Having said that, I think for me, it comes to years of experience and understanding what I find visually pleasing in terms of angles, understanding your subject and what angle they are at and whether they have the emotion portrayed accurately on them at that specific angle.
For me, it’s quite a large guessing game to figure out whether I’ve got the shot or not as I can only see the final product once I’ve finished post production and won’t know exactly how it’ll look like until I’m done. A lot of the time I’m super disappointed at a shoot and by the time I’ve finished editing it, I’m incredibly happy with the outcome or it could go the complete other way around. Lastly, please share with us 3 of your local creative crushes and their IG handles to shoutout! 1. @birdycantfly
Check out Daniel Adam's website here for more details on his amazing photography and projects.