I was going through Instagram stories when a photo a friend reposted on their story caught my eye. I clicked on the post and it brought me to Daniel Adam’s Instagram account and the photo is of a trans man and he is from here, Malaysia. Suffice to say I was surprised as I did not expect that. I was even more surprised when I read the caption because apparently, the photo is a part of a series called “Trans Men of Malaysia”.
My interest piqued and so I decided to go through his Instagram account and googled him and found his works. His personal works are what most people in Malaysia would consider provocative and controversial. Most of them truly got me looking at the photos in awe and got me inspired because it is very rare for anyone with a platform in Malaysia to put a spotlight on these communities and issues as they are considered as taboo and unnatural. So when I found the chance to interview him, I took it!
Introducing Daniel Adams
Daniel Adams is a conceptual portrait photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and what he means by conceptual is to create a series of images that has a deeper narrative and storytelling to it.
When asked about when he realised photography was what he wanted to do in life he told a story of when he was younger like around 15 or 16 years old and he asked his parents for a DSLR camera. His parents made him pay half for it and he thinks it’s to make him appreciate it more and from there it snowballed. He started practising more and he truly did not see himself doing anything else other than photography. He got the idea of photography as more of a career aspect in his life during his IGCSEs.
It all started from Flickr
When Flickr was a big thing, he used to be one of those Flickr photographers. He would go on it and make friends on it as well. Starting out, his images were more standalone, single photos and they did not have a strong narrative within them. He would just create whatever idea that pops up in his head and he just did a lot of what he saw on Flickr.
Going to college and university really allowed him to deepen his understanding on how to create a project and how to have a continuous and steady narrative throughout a series of images that would strengthen the whole idea he is trying to put forward.
Self expression through photography
He got interested in photography because it is a medium of art in which he can express himself freely without having to use any words.
I wasn’t very good at trying to get my point across but with photography I kind of take whatever is in here (head) and show it to an audience or whoever I want to show in the form of photos.– Daniel Adams
Constantly moving to find inspirations
He realised recently with MCO (Movement Control Order) that he finds inspiration by constantly moving and doing things. Before MCO happened, he was going to events all the time and was always out with people and the constant churning of discussions and conversations from that would help him spark ideas. He also watches a lot of music videos and movies to get inspiration. He goes on Pinterest and other social media as well to get ideas. He keeps following artists to see what new stuff is out there.
He puts a lot of socially and politically charged ideologies into his work and that stems from topics he can relate to or is interested in. He believes it is a mix between getting a topic he is interested in and getting inspiration from one of the things he mentioned previously and putting them together to create a project. Usually, the first idea that he would have would not be the end idea he would have.
Instagram being the main source of inspiration
He likes to surround his account with accounts that he loves, in terms of whether they are photographers, makeup artists, drag queens or performance artists, he’s just constantly seeing really interesting art or just creations in general.
People over objects
He prefers taking photos of people more than objects or sceneries because he finds the interaction with an individual like for example, being able to tell them what to do is a lot more interesting than photographing something he can’t speak to. He feels that with a person he has more control in terms of what he can tell them what he wants whereas with objects or landscape he does not have much control with how the final image is going to look like.
About his “Trans Men of Malaysia” project
The glint in his eyes was enough to really show how much he genuinely enjoyed the process of the shoot. He said that the process was really amazing. The project came to be because one of the individuals contacted him because he wanted to create a series of images of the trans men community in Malaysia and at the time, he had no idea and did not have a lot of knowledge on the transgender male community mainly because the community do blend in a lot with society more than transgender females because of the way they look, their features and just the difference between femininity and masculinity.
It was really interesting to get 13 of these people together and to speak about all the issues they faced and what it is like to be a transgender male in Malaysia, he said. It was really educational as well for him because he learned a lot, he met some interesting people who were so nice and open and they were willing to share their stories. They were lovely individuals, he said.
I want to create images that are aesthetically pleasing but also allow for awareness and education to be a part of the process, not only for myself but also for the people who are seeing it.– Daniel Adams
How he deals with backlash
How Malaysia feels about the LGBT community is no secret so I had to ask if he got any backlash from some of his projects that revolve around the community like “Love & Other Drags”, “Boys”, and “Colourless”.
The platform that he has as of now and the people he surrounds himself with have very similar moral values and beliefs that he does, same goes to most of his followers and they also enjoy the aesthetic so the platform he has on Instagram become somewhat of a safe space because most people who follow him usually enjoy the content he puts out, he explained.
Having said that though, whenever he puts out his content on Twitter, sometimes it reaches to a conservative group of people and he would get hate but there was not a lot as his platform is not that big and it does not reach as many people as he would like to which is fine, he said.
For the time being, he thinks it is nice to have a little community and there is not much backlash at the moment. However, maybe in the future once he figures out how to push his images to a larger audience then maybe he would get a lot more backlash, said him.
Usually, when he gets hate on Twitter he would just ignore them. He thinks it is stupid because they are just angry but he learned how to have fun by trolling them back and stuff like that. He said that he had learned how to not take everything personally and just play with it because if he does take it personally, it would affect him more than anything. He thinks it blurs the line a little bit more for him and it also makes him want to create more work and to create more awareness.
Using his work to create discussions and as an educational tool
He would like to think with these projects he is putting out, he is creating discussions and he thinks creating discussions is super important whether it is a bad one or a good one, it is still a discussion happening and we are able to see the different sides to what people think and see the different perspectives and how you are able to change some people’s minds through this or help them understand things a little better.
He thinks the most important thing is to create awareness and to help educate people whether they want to be educated or not, that is a different story but being able to put it out there and have people see it as an educational tool is super important to him.
If he hadn’t put out the work that he did, a discussion wouldn’t have happened.
I think just discussions, in general, are super important, talking about topics that are slightly taboo or are seen as haram or anything like that might be just the way to help change certain things and educate people.– Daniel Adams
Appreciating people for who they are
As the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words so I asked Daniel what message he wants the general public to get when looking at his work.
He wants people to appreciate people for who they are even if they are different from them and to not judge people for looking or being different from them because he doesn’t think that’s how people should react.
If someone is differently-abled from you or if someone has a different coloured skin than you or different sexual orientation from you, it shouldn’t affect you and you shouldn’t make judgments based on the way that they look.– Daniel Adams
Representation in Malaysia
He thinks there should be more representation in general.
I think inclusivity and diversity are super important and you could see that coming out in Malaysia in bits and pieces and it’s not 100% there yet but there are some people who are starting to do it and it’s nice to finally see that it can happen in Malaysia.– Daniel Adams
The hardships of doing his personal projects
To be able to do these projects, he had to intercept himself with the community that he is trying to photograph. It is easy for him to get participants for his shoots as he surrounds himself with the LGBT community and a lot of them are his friends as well.
However, it is a little bit more difficult to photograph older participants in the LGBT community because he doesn’t know them and he doesn’t have access to that at the moment.
Same goes for the transgender females’ community, he doesn’t know any trans female in Malaysia so until someone approaches him with connections or until he finds any, it will take him a while to do any kind of photoshoots with them as he has to gain their trust so being able to intercept community is one of the difficult things that takes time.
It is a process that is very genuine and to make actual genuine connections with people is really cool, he said.
Whenever there is a backlash, it is difficult not to take it personally and I think that’s one thing I’ve learnt to be able to distinguish between actual criticism and just like hate and not like taking it all upon myself.– Daniel Adams
Other local photographers we should lookout for
Catharhea is amazing, he gushes. His project “Dark Skin” was a collaboration with her that showcased dark skin people in Malaysia and the beauty of it.
Annatasha aka @monkeydisease on Instagram. She is really good and she is really, really cool, he said.
Raisa Azzam, she is a fashion photographer. He said she is a very talented individual and she takes very amazing images but very fashion-based, of course, and very, very cool.
Future projects we should lookout for
He is shooting a new project for KL20x20 and that is really fun, he said. He is shooting 20 individuals who have inspired him and are also paving the way for the next generation of creators.
He also wants to continue his and Samuel aka @samueleffron on Instagram “Love & Other Drags” series because there are a few more drag queens he wants to shoot and that is all for now.
Advice to aspiring Malaysian creators who want to do controversial themes that include inclusivity and diversity
Always do your research because you need to create projects that are cohesive, he said. It is very easy to offend people when you do something in a specific way so it is very important for you to do your research so that you can understand how to portray these individuals with it being a genuine experience and he thinks you should go for it.
People have said to him things like “don’t photograph this”, “don’t photograph that”, “you’re going to offend someone”, and such but he went for it anyway.
I think you should go for it and definitely put the step forward and photograph individuals or topics that you find important to make aware of in this day and age, there are not many people that are doing that in Malaysia.– Daniel Adams
Interviewing Daniel Adams was genuinely a wonderful experience and it is amazing to truly see how passionate he is about his work and how determined he is in using his platform to raise awareness on issues that are usually not talked about much or at all in this country.
Check out his website to look at all the projects he has done over the years since he started.
Check out his Instagram as well to keep up with what he is working on.