A Moment With Photographer, James Adams
He’s best known for his unbelievable abilities to portray a better version of life as we know it thanks to his incredible skills behind the lens, capturing some of the world’s best musicians and landscapes on offer, though there is so much more to Sydney based photographer, James Adams.
Apart from his well recognised and diverse work, James is one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet thanks to his bank of travels and open arm approach to life itself. When he’s not away shooting big names, campaigns or breathtaking landscapes, you’ll find him kicking around Sydney’s streets with his girlfriend and group of mates, equipped with beer in hand and sense of adventure packed to the brim.
We caught up with the man himself to talk everything from his recent solo exhibition, the key attributes to taking the perfect image, what it’s like to be surrounded by so many creative artists and much more.
You recently had your first solo exhibition. Tell us all about it?
I sure did. About a year ago I was at the pub having a beer with a couple of mates and conversation turned to why I hadn’t shown most of my best work. I didn’t have a great answer so they encouraged me to exhibit. Although I shoot whatever pleases me, my music lifestyle stuff had been getting a bit of heat so I though it’d be nice to start with that. Unsatisfied with delivering a forgettable experience, I decided to scrap the traditional champagne and caviar style exhibition and make it a little more suited to the work. I put out my feelers and truly felt the support of bands and brands that I love working with. The culmination resulted in a exhibition and event hybrid. Two nights, twenty two prints, four bands, including The Delta Riggs and Bad//Dreems, countless Young Henrys and a good old fashion two day hangover.
What first inspired you to get into the photography game?
Well, I like games but aren’t terribly competitive, so I tend to lose often. I think this worked in my favour as I now do things for myself and not to win. I was initially inspired by my mum’s photo albums from when she was young and when she introduced me to the old camera that she shot all of her photos on, it was the start of a hobby that is now a career.
Did you study or was it something that just came naturally to you?
I didn’t study very well at school, I kind of tried but if I wasn’t interested it wouldn’t stick. I never went to university, so I didn’t study in that sense of the word but I was pursuing an active interest and asking questions to fellow photographers. Learning from people that are physically shooting photos rather than talking about it seemed to help me learn the ratios and theoretical side of things but I guess the composition and ‘eye’ thing came somewhat naturally.
You obviously capture the walks of life from many industries, though it seems of late you are shooting a lot of musicicans. Who’s been your favourite?
I’ve been lucky to have met a worked with a generous number of musicians that I fancy. None more so than The Delta Riggs. I saw them play about 5 years ago and loved the show so much I made it my mission to shoot them. A few months later I got my chance, and have worked closely with them ever since. It’s been a long road for those guys and it’s been a pleasure to be there watching and capturing some if it. We’re all close mates now and things are continually getting better. Exciting times.
Do you have a favourite shot from the music scene? Walk us through it?
This one is somewhat special to me as it was at the first show The Delta Riggs took me to. If i didn’t land this shot who knows if they’d have had me back and if I’d met all of the lovely people I’ve had the chance to meet. Maybe I’d still be a school groundsman.
Why is your nickname Larry Bird?
Haha Larry Bird. I don’t get it so much now but all my old mates call me Larry. I was in the surf with a bunch of mates about 12 years ago and we were calling each other the names of ex-pro basketball players. We called our short mate Mugsy Boags, our mate with big eyes Charles Barkley and as I was wearing a white shirt and white board shorts, I was named Larry Bird, the best and fiercest white ball player. I don’t think any of the guys nicknames made it out of that surf but I haven’t been able to shake it in 12 years.
You’ve also shot a heap of surfing. Tell us about some of the most memorable sessions you’ve captured over the years?
The first half of my photographic life was shooting surf. I loved all of the mischief we’d get up to in Hawaii every year but I did a road trip that takes the cake. I did a stint of work in a mine in Western Australia and decided to drive home to Queensland. My mate flew to Perth and we drove the whole way back over 10 days. I’d been out of the water for a while before we left, but the ocean did what it so rarely does and behaved exactly how I’d wished. It started small and fun then gradually got bigger and bigger the whole way back. Most of the trip we surfed and shot alone in some of the most beautiful landscapes Australia has to offer. That was pretty special.
As you said, you spend a lot of time with people like the boys from Delta Riggs, Angus and Julia Stone and Alison Wonderland. What’s it like to be surrounded by so many creative people?
I think it helps keep me motivated. These musicians aren’t just writing a few songs and boom, rockstar! They work so hard to continually better themselves and evolve into the musicians they want to be. It inspires and motivates anyone they come in contact with to get busy and get creative. It’s their undying drive to create what they honestly love that inspires me to do that same, and that happens to be capturing their journey.
Things must get a bit wild photographing at these live gigs! Any crazy memories?
Yeah my vault is growing rapidly haha! There are many stories coming to mind but I’ll go with this one…
The first time The Delta Riggs went to the US as a band we hired this cool house in Silverlake, LA. After the first gig they ever played on international soil we all went back to the house with a bunch of friend and were celebrating. Angus Stone happened to be in L.A at the time recording their album with Rick Rubin, so he came to the show and our place after as well. He had bought this epic blue mini while in the States and took Elliott and I for a hoon around the Hollywood hills in it. It felt pretty magical being there, in that situation, listening to the hum of the minis engine changing gears with the lightly polluted air sweeping through the mini and the lights of LA shining through the windscreen. He kept saying he couldn’t have a big night as they were wrapping up the record, but he ended up being the last one up trying to get everyone to party on. A couple of nights later we were at Jonathan Wilson’s private album release party for ‘Fanfare’ (which is an incredible album) and Lana Del Ray happened to tell Monte that he smelt good. Something he’ll never let anyone forget!
How does it feel to have clients like Rolling Stone Mag, Commonwealth Bank and Telstra up your sleeve?
It feels to me like they’re lucky to have me. Haha. I’ve been fortunate enough to land a bunch of jobs that I’m proud of and I continue to learn from each job I take. I guess it’s somewhat satisfying to have a diverse range of clients that are interested in my style of capturing life.
Top 5 places to shoot?
That seems like a normal question, but in all honesty, I don’t really know. I tend to get more excited about light than landscape, so I could be in a dump and be wrapped that there’s some nice soft light. Or be in Mexico but be cut that the light is harsher than ideal. I guess the best is where there’s beautiful natural light, good food and company. New York City always ticks these boxes.
You are based in Sydney, what’s an ideal weekend there for you?
I do live in Sydney and what makes weekends ideal here is that I rarely find myself doing the same thing over and over. Most weekends are totally different and that’s one of the things that I like most about the place. I feel like I’m happy when productive, so maybe if I went to a gig or festival with an artist, got some material that I’m excited about, enjoyed a bunch of beers and whiskey with some mates and my girlfriend. A good swim on a Sunday morning is always the sign of a great weekend as it usually leads to any form of social Sunday afternoon activity to wrap up the weekend or drag it into a long one. It’s all about time optimisation you see.
What’s the key to taking the perfect image?
Timing and creating comfort between yourself and your subject is key. Also a solid knowledge of lights behaviour will help change the way people look at your shots.
Has your style changed and evolved over the years?
100%. Evolution is so very necessary for any artist. Classics are awesome, but naturally evolving a style into what could potentially create a future classic is what makes an artist.
If you were to give your 18 year old self one tip, what would it be?
Thats hilarious. When I was 18 I was visiting Sydney and my mum told my uncle to give me some advice. She was thinking, ‘Go to uni’ advice. He told me, ‘Do whatever you like and have fun.’ So I did. So I am. So my advice, in the words of Uncle Paul O’Neill, ‘Do whatever you like and have fun.’
Any exciting plans for 2016?
Always. I’m fleshing out the details of potentially bringing my exhibition/event North. If it comes together, you’ll hear about it.
Check out some James’ other favourites: