Ricky Adam is one of those people that I love to find through the internet, because I knew him all along. I read a DIG BMX mag all thru my teens & even still today, the magazine Ricky has worked for a decade & a half. The photograph on the Refused album insert that is the photo I am trying to take any time I take pictures of a band, Ricky took that photo. The title of his new book “Destroying Everything… Seems Like The Only Option” is the title I’ve been trying to come up with for years.
After coming upon Ricky’s book at the ever amazing Quimbys in Chicago a few weeks ago & putting al these pieces together, I decided I had to know more about this person who already seemed like such a key piece to my life.
Empty Stretch: Age/ Location/ 3 favorite things in life.
Ricky Adams: Feeling pretty old & getting older - I grew up in a small costal town called Bangor in Northern Ireland which is about 10 miles outside of Belfast, but I’ve been living in Leeds U.K. On & off for the last 10+ years.
There’s no way I can narrow it down to just 3. Off the top of my head: good people, music, nice vegan food, photography, animals, coffee, fog, big trucks getting stuck in small streets, people sneezing in public.
ES: From my own experience & friends, it seems people involved in the bmx/ skate/ punk scene often just naturally find themselves behind a camera at some point. How did you find yourself start photographing?
RA: Photography for me is something that started out purely as a hobby. I rode bikes, skated & all my friends were into punk. The things I photographed were a direct response to that, and a catalyst for picking up a camera in the first place.
I’ve ridden BMX bikes since I was 12 years old. 26 years on and I still ride, and not in a midlife crisis sort of way either. It just feels right, it’s always felt right. Same goes for taking pictures.
I quickly realised that photography was something that I could do pretty well. It fitted in with my lifestyle. I liked the immediacy of it & it was fun, so I stuck at it. I’ve often felt a bit of a disconnect in social situations and having a camera helped with this.
After some time I began to take it more seriously and started to document certain aspects of the Northern Irish punk scene, as well as other things that I thought were worth documenting. At the time no one else was taking photos at gigs, so in a way I felt a sort of responsibility to do so.
ES: You recently had your book “Destroying Everything” released. What was that process like for you? Did you have any previous experience with books/ zines. How was the book design/ editing process overall?
RA: Putting together ‘Destroying Everything’ was a totally liberating experience.
About a year ago I was looking through my archive of photos and realised that I had lots of images that bore a resemblance to one another. It was a strange process. A lot of the photos were taken some time ago. As individual pictures they felt a bit disconnected, but when I edited them down and put them side by side they morphed into a really powerful set of images.
After that initial realisation I felt compelled to turn it into a book and put it out there.
Maybe it’s my own paranoia, but since the book’s come out I’ve noticed that certain people seem disappointed when they meet me in person. It’s happened a few times. It seems people expect me to be a loose canon, or something.
I was at a show recently and some kid asked me where Ricky Adam was. I told him it was me and he laughed. He said “ha ha, Ricky Adam’s a gnarly fucker!” He didn’t believe me! And that sort of thing has happened more than once…
I find it funny that a selection of pictures can alter a person’s perception of someone so radically.
As for previous experience with print: I have worked as a photographer & Co. editor at DIG BMX magazine for the last 16+ years so I did have experience with editing and print, which helped hugely. I also made a few punk zines in my teens as well.
I’ve always loved print: books, magazines, etc.
I’ve always been a collector of things which is another reason why I got into photography.
I did all of the design myself. It’s fairly basic but I wanted it to look ‘punk’, and I think I’ve achieved that. It works in context with the photos. As for editing, I started off with over 1000+ photos and ended up with 104. I had some help with this. You really need another perspective after looking at the same photos over and over. There were a few photos I really liked that got pulled. But that’s how it is with editing, you have to be ruthless.
ES: I’ve noticed a love for the midwestern United States in your photos, what is it that you like about that region? What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been too?
RA: Well, as often is the case it started out with a girl – About 10 years ago I dated a girl from Minneapolis and ended up going there a lot over the 5 years or so that we were together.
It was a great experience.
Coming from Ireland the Midwest was an exciting, frozen foreign land.
Minneapolis, or if you prefer ‘Ice City’ has a nice atmosphere about it. I haven’t been back for years but I sometimes get quite nostalgic about the place: Harsh winters, Extreme Noise records, Seward cafe, thrift stores, quirky Midwest things.
ES: What is your photographic process? Digital/ film?
RA: The way I work is kinda haphazard and often out of compulsion. I tend to only photograph things that genuinely interest me. I’ve found that’s the way to get the best results – from photographing things that I find inspiring.
There are some projects I have done that are solely focused on one particular subject/theme. But usually I’ll take photos here & there, which over time I eventually edit down into different sets.
I like how projects organically form out of the tangle of images. This fermenting over time approach works for me.
I shoot both film & digital. I shot film for years (pre digital) – A lot of my favourite photos were shot on film. I find myself using a lot more digital these days. It’s more cost effective, faster and better for the environment.
Ultimately, as long as I get the pictures that I want it doesn’t matter to me what format they were shot on.
ES: What is your favorite subject to photograph?
RA: Over the last lot of years I have focused a lot on youth sub-culture. I also particularly love documentary/street photography. I’d say that over 90% of my photos have people in them.
ES: Who are your photographic/ life influences?
RA: For the first few years taking photos I knew nothing about other photographers. What prompted me to pick up a camera were the bands & creative people who I hung out with. But as I got more & more into photography I started discovering amazing photographers such as Eugene Richards, Robert Frank, and Larry Clark.
The D.I.Y. punk scene influenced me in a big way. When I was around 17 I started going to gigs in Belfast. I’d see people playing in bands, and running & organising gigs, without the help of promoters or any other outside help.
Bands from all over the world would show up, play a gig, then stay at someone’s house.
Being around this sort of environment was inspiring and pushed me to be creative in ways that I hadn’t thought possible before. It was a turning point for me.
I learned to play drums and ended up in a few bands which over time led me to photography.
ES: What keeps you photographing?
RA: I’m an obsessively curious person, and out of that curiosity comes a desire and appreciation to look, listen and absorb.
ES: Any current projects you’re working on or we should keep an eye out for?
RA: There will be a 2nd (extended) edition of ‘Destroying Everything’ coming out some time in 2013. So, I’ll be busy with that and more than likely doing shows here & there to tie in with the book.
Over the last few years I’ve been documenting a bunch of punker friends who have been squatting in random houses. It’s not completely finished yet, but it’s getting there. I’m really excited about it, but I won’t be showing it until it’s 100% finished. Please find more of Ricky Adam’s photographs on his website & do yourself a favor & get a copy of “Destroy Everything… Seems Like The Only Option.”