The Lounge: Adam Amengual

by Heather on July 11, 2010

When I selected Jaime and Grant for my Year in the Life Project last fall, Adam Amengual was on the shortlist. Getting ready to relocate to LA from New York, I liked a lot of Adam’s work and was curious about the idea of following his move. In the end, though I decided to keep the series Canadian, I vowed that I would follow up with Adam in the future.

One of my favourite things about Adam’s work is his composition. His subjects are almost always framed in the centre of the picture and their physicality is simple, classic and often subtly interesting.

From a series he shot during his move West:

From a series of recent college graduates in Boston shot for Boston Magazine:

Other random jobs and personal work:

And some landscapes:

When Adam first expressed interest in the Year in the Life Project, he told me about his move to LA:

In my editorial portrait work I want to keep pushing to shoot more and more people of cultural importance, and celebrities are a huge part of that. Being here in LA, I will have greater access to those types of people, which in turn will boost my name recognition. On the flip side, with my personal work, I’m drawn to the everyman/woman that you find in suburban/rural areas. LA is a sprawling city that quickly becomes suburban. I’d like to keep exploring this interest here on the West coast. Ideally, my personal work will lead to assignments dealing with more documentary themes using a mix of portraiture, interiors, landscapes and still life photos. In terms of where I see my career heading…I would like to be involved in editorial, commercial and fine art. I would like to produce a style that with a few tweaks could be made to work in any of those three worlds. People like honest portraits and I think that kind of image making can cross over in any field.

Hmmm. People do indeed like honest portraits. Let’s see how Adam’s doing today.

So now, 10 months later, have these goals panned out?

My time here in LA over the last 10 months has not really been at all what I expected. Before moving to LA, I really wanted to make sure my income would stay consistent, and that I could keep up some steady freelance assisting work. I assisted in NYC for 6 years, and over the past two years things have been really slow, as was the case with most of the industry. Moving to a new city during this time was definitely a bit of a risk for me. I was nervous about whether I was going to be making steady money. Luckily, I had assisted many times in LA and had even shot there myself a few times over the past 6 years, and so I had a few contacts. But I was still unsure of how the business in general was doing compared to NYC. So, before I left the East Coast, I emailed about 70 people. Pretty much anyone I had ever worked for: producers, photographers, fellow assistants. I also emailed several contacts that others had given me.

The “Assistant Promo” push worked better than I could have ever imagined, almost too good. I basically hit the ground running once I got here, and have been on a crazy assisting kick ever since. Over the past 10 months I’ve worked for some of the most successful photographers I have ever assisted, Art Strieber, Ben Watts, and Norman Jean Roy among them. As someone on the tail-end of their assisting career, it has been really exciting to continue to learn new things here and there.

Another bonus of assisting here, has been the LA contacts that I’ve made on the production side of the biz, most notably Milk LA and OTMFC. To have these two rental houses backing me up is a huge help. I was very conscious of the fact that I was giving up some of my relationships like this in NYC, so to make some industry friends out here in LA is something that I am really grateful for.

Also from assisting out here I feel that I’ve become more focused on what I want to shoot commercially. I moved here intending to shoot celebrity and entertainment work; but now after assisting in it a good amount, I realize that it is not where I need to focus my energy right now. While in NYC, I shot musician portraits and shot a few recognizable faces, and so the interest is definitely there. But right now I am more interested in developing a body of advertising work and on really focusing on my personal portraits and landscapes. I would never turn down a celebrity portrait gig, I love shooting people, but at this point I just feel that I need to choose one route and follow it.

You were recently hired to shoot a job in Iraq- can you tell us about it? (Click to see larger versions of these spreads):

I was hired by a US based non-profit PR company Lipman Hearne to create images for the Iraqi Ministry of Energy’s website and a brochure. Energy, specifically electricity, has been an issue in Iraq from the beginning of the war and Lipman Hearne was contracted by the US State Department to help convey the Iraqi Ministry’s message of conservation and to illustrate that the Iraqi Ministry is doing all that they can to make things better in Iraq.

It started about 7 months ago, when I received an email from a friend of a friend asking if I would be interested in shooting an assignment in Iraq. Basically it was passed over by two other photographers because the job was in two parts. There was to be a training session for some local Iraqi photographers, and the second part was an annual report type gig for the Iraqi Ministry of Energy. They were looking to find someone that could do both the shooting and the teaching. The job was going through some academic circles, and from what I understand the two fine art photographers/teachers that were contacted before me did not have the production experience to pull something like this off.

I’ve been lucky enough to have assisted on gigs all over the world, from South America to Japan. I have experience with the carnet process and dealing with all of the questions in customs. Not to mention that traveling with ten plus cases of gear is understandably a bit intimidating to most.

In addition to my experience assisting on travel gigs, a huge bulk of my assisting career has been in advertising. I have a great relationship with Anderson Hopkins, the photo agency and production company in NYC, and have assisted most of their photographers on large advertising jobs. Working on these jobs, I learned that it doesn’t matter how great of an image you can make, working with clients is something that is equally if not more important. This skill comes with experience, and in the last few years I’ve really made it a point to pay attention to the photographers I’m working with, noting how they work with the client, art director, etc… One photographer, particularly adept at this skill is Chris Frazier Smith. I’ve learned a good amount from watching how he works.

In the end I brought one of the previously contacted photographers as my assistant. He had a lot more teaching experience than me and was able to help with that end of the job. We did a seminar day, followed by 7 days of shooting. It was one of the most difficult jobs I have been on. In the end though, I really loved it and realized that this is the type of photography (commercially speaking), in which I would like to orientate my career.

I look at this kind of work as mostly problem solving. Whether is a visual problem or a production/logistical one, I really enjoy trying to figure it out. I’m not going to lie, there were some pretty stressful times, whether it be customs in both Dubai and Baghdad being difficult in the midst of a 36 hour journey, talent/subjects falling through, or not being sure if the gear was going to get through an Iraqi military check point, I remained calm and things worked out in the end. Its truly amazing what a smile can do for a situation. Also, I can’t neglect to mention driving around in armored cars, wearing a bulletproof vest, and sleeping twenty feet from a bomb shelter…these were specific stresses to this job.

I wish I had been able to shoot more personal images on this trip. Unfortunately, it was very difficult due to the amount of time that was dedicated to shooting the job. Also, the rules that you have to abide by when having a camera around your neck in that country, particularly in Baghdad, were very strict. We shot part of the job in the Kurdistan region and it was a lot mellower.

Overall, I am really pleased with how it all went. I still haven’t seen any layouts for the website, but I am looking forward to it. In particular the profiles that I shot for the brochure I am very happy with. They are a nice combination of my personal style of picture taking and what the art director was looking for. I am very happy with the collaboration.

Is there anything that you’re extra proud about that we should mention?

I am really happy with where the website is at right now. I updated it about a month ago, and I feel like it’s a good combination of personal work and assignment based work.

I recently purchased an iPad and have enjoyed having one compact method for displaying different bodies of work. Also there is my blog, which has been on-going for about two and a half years now, it’s a visual journal of sorts. I post updates more frequently some months than others, but I really like the idea of keeping a journal like that. I have some of the personal images from Iraq up there, as well as snaps from my journeys and adventures with my wife, and also from assisting.

Just before I left NYC, I met with an agent and mentor of mine and he told me that the next big push I need to make is that I need to give “self-assignments” both short term and/or semi-long term to show that I can pull off a multi-image job or campaign. I have gotten wrapped up in assisting pretty heavily in the last few months, but I just met with an LA agent last week that told me exactly the same thing as the NYC agent. I’m pretty confident in my vision and style, and my next move is to make a more refined body of work that shows what my potential is. Also in the works is a project that my wife and I are putting together based around the Gulf Coast. We are putting together a Kickstarter page to try to get some funding. I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of our invitation to that creative fund raising community.

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Best of luck to Adam and thanks for the thoroughness of his answers- lots of clever stuff in there. Let’s check back with him in another 10 months.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Skipper July 12, 2010 at 2:22 am

I always enjoy reading how people get their careers started. There is never any two the same. Some like Adam start as assistants and develop contacts. The things I find in common with everyone is that they take chances and they maintain a positive attitude.

Its the same two attributes I find in the story of any person who has had success no matter what their field. Thank you for taking time to share, looking forward to great reports in 10 months.

gabriela herman July 12, 2010 at 8:19 am

really enjoyed hearing about another emerging photographer’s career path after having followed jaime and grant this past year with you. would love to see you follow a female photographer at some point too

kris July 14, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Good stuff! Adam is true professional through and through, pleasure to work with and know! Keep up the good work.

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