When Monty Adams discovered his natural ability with a camera, it ignited a practical desire to become a fashion photographer and spurred an eagerness to connect with the people in the gaze of his lens. This spirit has seen him capture the likeness some of the most influential changemakers of our time.
Monty had decided that photography was the career for him after receiving his first camera, an Olympus, on his 21st birthday. "It seemed to tick all the boxes; it was creative, and I could travel with it."
His family connection to photography are auspicious with his great grandfather, an accomplished photographer, winning a big New York prize in the 1880s at a time when photographic film was just beginning to replace glass plates. Nearly 100 years later, Monty too was recognised for his promising talent when, after a year at Christchurch Photographic School in 1987, he was accepted into the Wellington Polytechnic (now WelTec) Photographic Course.
The following year, Monty was one of only three students to gain the Agfa Bursary Scholarship at Wellington Polytechnic in 1989. At the same time, he’d begun photographing celebrities and politicians, including David Lange, Bob Jones and Miss Universe, Lorraine Downes.
Impatient to pursue his fashion photography dream, Monty threw in the scholarship and moved to Sydney in 1990 where he immediately found work as a photographer’s assistant. When renowned Sydney agency, Vivien’s Model Agency contacted him to take its model test shots his career hit the fast lane. "I only had three fashion shots in my portfolio, and they noticed that I had something."
His work as a professional photographer had begun. Without the luxury of his polytech studio, Monty had to master the skill of shooting in natural daylight, which has become a signature of his photographic style.
"I really learnt how to shoot models then too. Sometimes I’d go into Vivien’s with the model, and the agency people would critique the model. Not me, not my shot. They’d say 'What are you doing that pose for? It’s so catalogue'. That's when I realised poses can be old fashioned, or that I am not directing the models enough, so I thought I’d better study up."
Monty devoured fashion magazines, absorbing new techniques, which he then used in commissioned shoots with Vivien’s top models, including a Vogue cover model on her way to big things.
By 1992, Australia was well into a severe recession and the work dried up so Monty booked his return flight to New Zealand. Here his career as a fashion photographer rapidly "snowballed". He worked with Rachael Churchward from Planet magazine and then moved into lifestyle magazines including Next and She.
"One of my first commissioned shoots that was a real standout for me, was one for Planet. We got three people, two girls and a guy, only one of them was a model, and we put them in a retro motel in Parnell and just shot them. There was not too much planning behind it. It was black and white and we made it up as we went a long and the results were great. People noticed that shoot and I started doing more."
Monty says when left to his own devices the results are infinitely better. Allowing the session to have a free run makes it more creative and fun for everyone and you get the best of them. "That’s why I’ve fallen into the realm of fashion celebrity photographer - sometimes with celebrities, sometimes with models, and sometimes with celebrity models - because I can make people feel relaxed enough to make them look good. A lot of my work has fallen into that realm and I’ve ended up doing more celebrities than fashion." Monty says that he gained a name for himself because he was photographing known people. "When you photograph celebrated people you can become celebrated," he says.
In fact, his work was immortalised in New Zealand history with that Metro magazine cover featuring Helen Clark and he took the photos for her for the election campaign too. "Everyone said Helen Clark has never looked so good, and she did. She’s a person who doesn’t like her photograph taken but just has to grin and bear it. Then of course people kept saying she’s been retouched to buggery, which was not true because she’s a very attractive person."
Another celebrity Monty has built up a solid working relationship with over the years is Kiwi model export Rachel Hunter. "I enjoy shooting with her because she gets it, she gets me and I get her," he says. "She’s so experienced and worked with so many top photographers that she knows when there’s good light and when there’s bad light, and if there is bad light, how to work it."
While there is a perception that he always makes people look beautiful, he believes that label can be career limiting, adding that "my personal aesthetic is more edgy or darker than what I am known for".
"I have always been interested in movement. It’s interesting looking back at old shots, I really did a lot of movement. I’d get the models, running, jumping whatever, anything but standing still. And I still like to do that, but quite often I can’t because we’re shooting in a contained space. But I’m going back to that a lot; using movement."
Monty recognises his preference for movement is going against the grain in New Zealand fashion photography right now. Fundamentally, Monty says his style over the years remains similar but has become infinitely more sophisticated. In relation to his portraiture Monty that meeting them and making a connection is the true highlight. "It becomes all about trust. That’s what I love."
Text by Belinda Nash. Banner image © Monty Adams.
Last published May 2017.