Q&A: Adrian Samson shoots for Frieze Art Fair

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Born in the 1970s in Slovakia, Adrian Samson left in 1997, travelled, and finally settled in London in 2004. Represented by Industry Art agency, his work has won him commissions from clients such as Hermes, Miu Miu, COS, Vogue Hommes International, Numero Berlin, Wallpaper*, The Plant, The Gourmand, and The New York Times. His latest project is a shoot for the Frieze Art Fair, which opens in London from 04-07 October, which saw him handling ancient and modern artefacts taken from the Frieze Masters section. His images will be presented in Frieze’s newspaper for its well-respected event, which includes a talk by Nan Goldin on 06 October and a presentation of new images by emerging Polish photographer Joanna Piotrowska.

BJP: How did you get into photography?
Adrian Samson: I started at a very young age, my dad bought me my first camera when I was only nine. Then I was going to study photography but for practical reasons my parents couldn’t let me. Only later in 2001, at the age of 27, did I get the chance to become a professional photographer, working on cruise ships on the Caribbean. By that time I had a real passion for it and was shooting daily. In 2003 I moved to Canada where I managed photographers; I eventually came to London in 2004. I was signed up by my first agency a year later.

BJP: How long have you been with Industry Art?
AS: It’s been two and half years and I really love working with them.

BJP: You shoot for some really nice clients – how have you won these commissions?
AS: All these recent clients are since I joined Industry Art, so I can really thank them for that. I have met lots of great creatives in the past two years, and every time I have shot something exciting, we have had new people contact us.

BJP: Who would be a dream client?
AS: That’s not an easy question. I have liked the clients I have worked with lately. In editorial, there are publications I haven’t shot for yet and would be great if I could, like Gentlewoman / Fantastic man, Modern Matter, etc. This year I worked with Hermès, and there are many other great brands I hope to shoot for.

BJP: Are you picky about who you work for? What makes a good client?
AS: I did have to learn to say no sometimes, but luckily more often the clients who contact us want something that they believe I’m the person to shoot. Usually, that’s a good starting point. The ones we tend to refuse have something in mind that we can’t really see how we could make it work. A good client for me has a strong vision that somehow matches with what we do.

BJP: What makes a good commissioned shoot?
AS: It starts with an exciting creative concept and a great team. I also like to come up with my own ideas when the client is open to it. With editorial it’s almost always the case, but sometimes I’m also asked for creative direction with commercial clients, as was the case with Hermès. I like to be involved in the creative part, unless the creative is at the point where there is nothing to add.

BJP: How do you balance your style and what the client needs?
AS: I try to convince the client by submitting several ideas that are consistent with the style I want to achieve in my work, which is likely the reason they hired me. Then I just hope that they will like what I proposed, so I can keep my work coherent even with commissions.

Shot by Adrian Samson for Frieze Art Fair. Set design by Sarah Parker, art direction by Carol Montpart and David Lane © Adrian Samson

BJP: How did the shoot for Frieze come about?
AS: I met Carol Montpart, the art director, who contacted me for this job on a fashion shoot for The Plant Magazine, which I did last year. Since then we have done a couple of very nice jobs together. She was commissioned for the Frieze job by David Lane, who I had already met by chance on Eurostar earlier this year on the way from a meeting in Paris. It happened that we were seeing the same client for different jobs, and had totally randomly sat next to each other on the train. We chatted all the way to London, and soon he contacted me to shoot for his magazine The Gourmand. So when Carol suggested me to him for the Frieze job, we already knew each other.

BJP: What is shown in the images?
AS: There were two pieces that really caught my eye. One was the Greek figure from 1400 BC, and the other was the Japanese pipe case. There was also a Japanese photograph by Miyako Ishiuchi, a beautiful ceramic hookah base, and a porcelain sake vase from France. The pipe case was made of a stag antler, which I could only see someone using in Japan. I love the Japanese sense of purpose, choice of material, and attention to detail. The Greek Psi figurine made my hand tremble. I just imagined that someone had put all his love into this small piece 3400 years ago, and the number of people that might have traded it throughout the centuries before it arrived in my studio

BJP: How long did you have to shoot for Frieze, and where did you shoot it?
AS: We shot it in my studio in two days. The first day we were establishing the art direction and the second day we were making the wire shapes with Sarah Parker, the set designer, and her assistant Monika.

BJP: Did you have a team with you, and did you have directions on how the final images should look?
AS: I submitted some ideas to Carol and David beforehand, then we further developed the concept with Carol until it was approved. Sarah brought the suede materials [used as backdrops] in five different colours, with the wires in all shapes and sizes. Each one of us drew plans for the wires in Photoshop on the top of the first captures. Then together we picked the ones we liked for each object. Sarah and Monika then shaped the wire following the drawings, and I worked on the lighting and angles.

BJP: How will Frieze be using the images?
AS: I was told that they will be full spread pages in their atypically large printed newspaper, which is handed out throughout the Frieze Masters Art Fair. It’s a piece that will promote artefacts that you can buy for under £10,000.

Shot by Adrian Samson for Frieze Art Fair. Set design by Sarah Parker, art direction by Carol Montpart and David Lane © Adrian Samson

BJP: I love the colours in your images, which look a bit 1960s somehow – in both this commission and other work. How do you achieve that look?
AS: True, I’m drawn towards the colours of 1960s and 70s magazines, ads and art. From Pop to Constructivism, formal and avant garde. I was born in the 1970s in Slovakia, behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Much of this reminds me of those times. I have my favourite colour palettes that I often return to – primary colours like light blues, warm reds and yellows.

BJP: Do you also shoot personal work? What are you working on now?
AS: I do. I used to do lots of experimental photography in my studio. This year I’ve had less time to do it as I was either working on jobs or shooting my book project, which I’m planning to finish this year. It’s called Mother and I hope to have it published by Offprint in May. It will be comprising many different sections somehow related to motherhood and the relationship between us and our first child who was born eight months ago. Mostly still life and installations shot in my studio but also some intimate moments like feeding times.

www.adriansamson.com Adrian Samson is represented by Industry Art www.industryart.com Frieze Art Fair takes place from 04-07 October in Regent’s Park, London https://frieze.com/fairs/frieze-london

Shot by Adrian Samson for Frieze Art Fair. Set design by Sarah Parker, art direction by Carol Montpart and David Lane © Adrian Samson
Shot by Adrian Samson for Frieze Art Fair. Set design by Sarah Parker, art direction by Carol Montpart and David Lane © Adrian Samson
Grid © Adrian Samson
Battaglia © Adrian Samson
Endless Bookclub at Tate Modern, shot for the organisers Self Publish, Be Happy © Adrian Samson
Thread © Adrian Samson
Plastic bags © Adrian Samson
Shot for The Gourmand, issue 11 © Adrian Samson
Watermelons © Adrian Samson
Shot for Miu Miu © Adrian Samson
Shot for The New York Times © Adrian Samson
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy