“Representation matters!”: Adam Perez on the empowering feeling of seeing yourself in an image
Adam Perez has been contributing to Adobe Stock for a while now. Here, he tells us how doing so has helped further his mission of increasing inclusion and diversity in the visual landscape.
We’re working with Adobe Stock to explore the creative possibilities that contributing stock imagery can present, and the benefits to those who do so. In the coming weeks, we’ll be commissioning a host of amazing creatives to contribute to the ever-expanding library, but today we’re kicking off the series by chatting to Adam Perez, a photographer who already knows a thing or two about what contributing to Stock can afford you.
Adam Perez grew up the youngest of eight in a Mexican immigrant family, in a small house near Sequoia National Park, a rural part of California. He was a creative child and his family nurtured this, allowing him to explore. His family members and his environment became his first photographic subjects when he eventually picked up a camera, instilling in him a desire to document people who live at the margins of society.
It was during high school that Adam was introduced to the medium that now forms the basis of his career, when he took a photography class and first met his mentor Lee Terkelsen. “He helped me believe that I could pursue photography as a career,” Adam tells It’s Nice That. From the off, he says, he was “drawn to photography because it gave me a license to enter people’s lives that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Today, Adam lives in LA, where he works as a freelance photographer and filmmaker, as well as contributing to Adobe Stock on a regular basis, and across all these avenues he still strives to capture what first made him fall in love with photography. “What excites me about photography today,” he says, “is the ability to highlight and elevate the faces of marginalised communities. I love seeing diverse photographers who represent and exalt the communities they come from.”
Adam first started contributing to Stock because of Coleen Jose, who works on community engagement at Adobe. “She painted a vision of a new type of stock photography that was inclusive and broke the tropes of the status quo,” he says. “I come from the world of documentary; so at first, I didn’t think that I would be a good fit. But Coleen pushed me to envision how I could incorporate my existing practices into stock photography.” A quick glance at Adam’s Adobe Stock profile proves he has gone on to do exactly that, as pages and pages of beautifully shot, intimate portraits are featured, each in line with Adam’s wider portfolio and mission of diversifying the photographic landscape and furthering its authenticity.
There’s a richness to Adam’s soft and colourful photographs. A considered use of lighting is always apparent, whether shot using natural light or in a studio, which helps draw the focus onto Adam’s subject. Compositionally, he’s playful and varied, sometimes dramatically placing his sitter in a shaft of light, and at other times gently landing on one pair of eyes amidst a crowd. By employing these techniques, he is able to explore the subtleties and nuances of race, gender, identity, and culture.
A key part of Adam’s practice, and one that’s a contributing factor to the authenticity he is able to achieve, is casting. He works largely with non-professional models, looking beyond the facade of a community they represent in order to see the model “as a person with ideas and a story”. He then builds trust with a sitter in order to draw out that story. “I’m also constantly communicating with the model so they are able to understand and invest in my vision,” he says. It’s a process he relishes, as it’s his way of incorporating “a diversity of race, size, and gender expression that you may not see at an agency.”
Recently, for example, Adam has been interested in photographing people who are gender non-conforming and who use fashion as a way to express that. In order to cast for these shoots, he’s been using Instagram. “It allows me to see their personality and imagine how that would translate into a shoot,” he says. “Casting, I believe, is an essential part of creating a photograph because you rely so much on the model’s energy and their ability to emote.”
While this process is clearly beneficial in terms of ensuring you can find the right people, a professional photographic set can be intimidating. So making someone feel at ease and comfortable is paramount. And this is where Adam’s skills as a portrait photographer come into play. When it comes to the shoot day, Adam will begin by having a conversation with the model, explaining the vision of the shoot. Everything will be ready before the model steps on set, creating a seamless transition as they step into the limelight and the scope of the camera lens. Then, “it’s a matter of finding the right moments, shapes, and gestures,” and communicating with his sitter so that they “buy into the experience”. If, together, they are able to create a genuine moment, Adam says, “For me, that is a success.”
Towards the end of the last year, Adam employed these techniques in a collaboration with Adobe and VSCO to create a premium collection for Stock titled Natural Beauty. The series was also created in collaboration with another LA-based photographer, Bethany Mollenkof, who he worked with to conceptualise, cast and set-design the shoot specifically for the collection. “Adobe and VSCO trusted our vision and gave us a lot of creative freedom,” Adam says, describing the shoot as a highlight from his time contributing to Stock. “The result, in my opinion,” he continues, “was beautiful. We had a fun, inclusive set, and by the end of the day felt like we were all bonded by the experience. I realised that my art could transcend genres.”
He then went on to speak at Adobe MAX, on a panel about diversity and authenticity alongside Bethany and partners from VSCO and Adobe. It’s an experience Adam describes as “a lot of fun”, saying, “We were able to have a frank and productive conversation about what diversity and authenticity look like in a practical way. Meaning, who do you hire? Not just photographers but editors, middle and upper management. We discussed how diversity and authenticity should not be token words but lived and practiced daily.”
The success of his and Bethany’s shoot and his experiences of working with Adobe Stock overall mean that Adam encourages other photographers and creatives to try their hand at creating Stock imagery. With essentially no rules, and an unprecedented demand for all kinds of imagery, creating for Adobe Stock comes with a lot of freedom. “You can be as creative as you want,” he says. What’s more, it’s a fantastic opportunity to expand your stream of income. “We no longer live in a world where photographers are able to work a staff job to support themselves – I, and many after me, have never lived in that world,” he adds.
In creating Natural Beauty (not to mention the rest of his stock imagery), Adam’s aim is to further representation on Stock by including people who have historically been left out or not considered during casting for stock imagery. He sees a future where stock imagery, and therefore the wider visual landscape, is fully inclusive and representative of a society that is “diverse in race, age, gender, and ability”. Stock, he continues, “needs to reflect that in order to stay relevant. Also, representation matters! Being able to see yourself in an image is an empowering feeling.”
On how photographers can actually work towards this goal, Adam says: “In the search for authenticity, look at the communities that you are part of, or if you’re interested in other communities outside of your own, do the work needed to build trust with them. Show up, break bread with them, talk about your own dreams and inspirations. Inauthenticity, in my opinion, springs from the inability to humble oneself.” From conceptualisation right through to the moment you press the shutter, as evidenced by Adam’s process, it is about communication. Being open to learning, to being proved wrong, or just through listening – it’s through opening channels of communication, building trust and being considerate that creatives can achieve true authenticity.
Adam Perez: Stock ID #296844948
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.