“I look for spontaneous moments that tell authentic, humorous stories, often leaving the viewer with more questions than answers,” explains New York-based Adam Powell. Originally a street photographer, Adam found his alcove within the theme of obsession – specifically in the USA – where he travelled to “special interest conventions, expos and gatherings of niche communities around the tristate area.”
An example of this can be seen in his recent series, Hot Dog Contest. It all began when Adam ventured to Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest – a “quintessentially American tradition,” says Adam, and a “ridiculous celebration of gluttony, competition and capitalism. It’s the Super Bowl of competitive eating.” One glance at this series, and you’re left with so many questions you’re not too sure where to start. “I wanted to shoot the event because what is stranger than a group of grown adults on a stage in front of thousands of people, seeing how many hot dogs they can eat in ten minutes?”
He has a fair point. Every year on Independence Day, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest returns at the Nathan’s Famous Corporation restaurant based in Coney Island, Brooklyn. As it stands, the defending men’s champion is Joey Chestnut – a man who ate 71 hot dogs in the 2019 contest. For the women, the defending champion is Miki Sudo, who ate 31. The rules go something like this – condiments are allowed, but are usually not used; hot dogs can cool a little after grilling to prevent mouth burns; the contestant inhales as many hot dogs and buns as possible in a total of ten minutes; partially eaten hot dogs count and those that are still in the mouth at the end are subsequently swallowed; if there’s a tie, contestants go on a five-dog eat-off to see who will win; and whoever does win, then gets a plate showing the number of dogs eaten – triumphantly brought out for photo opportunities.
While spectators stand by and cheer, it’s by far one of the most fascinating yet strangest competitions out there.
While shooting such events like the hot dog contest, Adam explains how he aims to paint a “vivid and playful picture of the experience”. Filled with an honest sense of humour, he achieves his style by combining an appetising blend of candid situational shots – like a contestant stuffing their face full of buns – with those that are more staged. “[I shoot] portraits of people that I feel tell the story of the event best,” he says. This whimsical approach is something that he strives for, citing his main inspiration as photographers such as Jeff Mermelstein, Daniel Arnold and Martin Parr – “[who are] all pioneers of candid photography and perfectly highlight the absurdity of ordinary life.” Additionally, he’s been studying the work of Chris Maggio and Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, because “they devise such unique visual projects that are laced with eccentricity and comedy.”
About four years ago, Adam moved from London to New York. He passed the time by walking around the city, “watching how the neighbourhoods and people in them change.” Before long, his dad sent his old 35mm camera and he’s been photographing ever since – “I just keep doing what I was doing but with a camera in my hand.” Over the next couple of months, Adam plans to shoot the New York Reptile Expo and the Harlem Medieval Fair, as well as Comic Con for Paper Magazine. Although much of his work has been shot around the New York area, he plans to travel across the States, continuing to document “all things weird and wonderful.”