Adrian Adel started out as a singer with Portland funk band Fatman. Then she discovered photography. Today Adel is a photographer and graphic designer with a clientele that includes many Portland musicians, including Liv Warfield, Luck One and Rose Bent. D.J. Khalid even recorded an intro for her website. The Skanner's Helen Silvis caught up with Adel at the Albina Press coffee house in N. Portland
HS: Are you originally from Portland?
AA: I'm from the Bay Area to be exact, but I moved to Portland in 1995 and fell in love with the city. I've lived all over the USA. I'd lived in 10 different cities before I was 10 years old. In the 80s, my parents were a part of the cable boom so we moved from city to city whenever a new cable job came about. In my 16 years in Portland, I did venture out and moved to Los Angeles, only to be chewed up and spit out. Now, I don't want to live anywhere else! Not that I'm a fan of the cold and wet, what I like most about the Northwest are its natural resources and that people are trying to preserve them.
HS: How did you land in Portland?
AA: My parents had moved here for work and I was fresh out of high school, in the midst of making a decision to attend college. I wanted to study music and English so I could be a teacher. But my grandfather, who had promised to finance my college education, didn't agree with my major. He was very old school and wanted me to study law, medicine or technology. So, after he let down and I refused to give in to his demands, I decided to move to Oregon. My mother had told me about the music program at Mt. Hood Community College. After getting caught up in entry level jobs, I ended up joining a band shortly after I moved here and lost sight of school.
HS: Tell us about that band.
AA: It was a 16-piece funk band called 'Fatman', named after the atomic bomb dropped by the Enola Gay. The music and performance was inspired by Pink Floyd with a little bit of Beastie Boys mixed in. We had a full trumpet section, full backup vocals, two drum kits, 3 guitarists, turn-tables, an emcee, you name it. Our lead singer was J.R. Pella (from Drunk at Abby's) who was well known for heating up stages around town. He is an extremely talented singer. We also featured a lot of artists during our two- year run, such as: Tahoe Jackson, My-G and Mic Crenshaw. It was amazing to me that 16 people would show up to rehearse twice every week for two years, in addition to the weekly gigs we had. We came to life right as Five Fingers of Funk left the city to tour, so we were able to step right into that empty spot. We played nearly every venue and event in town, like the Crystal Ballroom, Berbati's Pan, Tonic Lounge and even La Luna when it was still standing. I had the best time of my life with those people and I still keep in touch with several of them. We reminisce from time to time but it just makes me feel old!
HS: Do you still sing?
AA: I wish! I'm kind of thinking about getting my own thing together. I just miss performing so much. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a professional singer. I had always been a backup singer, performing with bands like Hungry Mob and Basic Shapes. In 2001, I went "solo" and took my chances with a move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music and sound engineering. Thus came about the stage name "Adrian Adel". I've had the opportunity to share the stage with some incredible artists including: Mic Crenshaw, Michael Franti and Spearhead, the late Guru, Dead Prez, The Coup, Pete Miser and the Five Fingers of Funk, and Macklemore. I had been a very active musician in Portland up until 2007. That was when my photography business started to take off and I just kind of let my music go. A lot of people don't know me as a singer, just a photographer. That's ok with me. I can live through them instead!
HS: How did you get into photography?
AA: It was almost accidental! I took some photographs for a friend and realized I was pretty good at it. So I asked a few musician friends of mine around town if I could shoot them, too. Having those shots in my portfolio really helped me land work along with the referrals I was getting. One of my first big shoots was with Obie Trice for Coast 2 Coast Magazine. I tend to get a little star struck at times so that shoot was kind of comical. I had asked the CEO of Coast 2 Coast, Lil' Fats, to not allow me to speak to Mr. Trice except to ask him to move his chin this way or that! I did a bit of work for Coast 2 Coast and ended up getting an official approval shout out from DJ Khalid.
Another big shoot I did was for Liv Warfield right as she was breaking from her label and taking her singing career into her own hands. She's still a client of mine and is still touring with Prince and the NPG.
|Amber Starks models a mo models a dress by local designer Adah Lux with hair by Abibat Durosimi |
HS: You've done some fashion shoots too?
AA: Jessica Kane and Carrie Woomer discovered me and had me shoot a few spreads for their plus-size magazine, SKORCH Magazine. They helped set up a shoot with plus model Diana Z. from America's Next Top Model as well as plus model Mary N. who didn't quite make the final cut. But I was able to shoot both of those ladies as well as Kasia from the recent season through SKORCH. I still work with SKORCH and am in the process of planning a shoot for a fashion spread for their next issue.
I love working with these ladies because they appreciate edgy photographs. Just because women are plus-sized, it doesn't mean we're not young, fun, edgy and like cute stuff, too!
HS: What are you doing currently?
AA: I tend to do a lot of work for musicians who need promo photos, and graphic design for album art and websites. This week, I'll be travelling to Olympia, WA to cover the KRS-1 show with Speaker Minds. I'm super excited about it. Getting to do what I love and see a legend in the process is amazing to me at times. I really appreciate my clientele. Artists like Liv Warfield, Luck-One Conscious, Illaj, Rocket-One, Kenny Mack, Soul P., DJ OG One, J-Kronic, Gretchen Mitchell, Blaze', Speaker Minds and DJ Chill have helped my business and keep it a word of mouth type of thing. I really love my job.
HS: Who do you rate on the Portland scene?
AA: I think there is some major talent in this city. Luck-One is getting ready to blow up. He's amazing. I think Mic Crenshaw is the best kept secret in Portland. There are several handfuls of Portland artists who are great, but whether they are marketable or not is another thing. That's not really my call. Personally, I like conscious hip-hop if you want to know what I'm dancing to. I do think some independent and underground artists don't take into account the importance of their image along with their sound. It puzzles me as to why some will spend thousands on their production but only a few hundred on the promo material/packaging. I think it should be 50/50. Not that I'm trying to get people to give me all of their money. In my opinion, I think that the image is just as important as the music. If people are serious about taking it that direction, my team and I have exactly what they need to do that. From the professional photo shoots to wardrobe and image styling, together, we can help create that image that goes along with the sound. What I really would like to do is expand beyond the hip-hop/blues/R&B genres and gain the interest of indie and alternative groups as well because I think I have a dark side that would suit them just right.
HS: What kind of parent are you?
AA: I'm a hip-hop'n single mama! I have an 8 year old son and he really means the world to me. When he came into my life, it seemed like I did a 180. I'm probably considered to be a little over protective when it comes to my child. I shelter him a bit. I don't expose him to my adult life or dramatic adult TV shows or MTV and BET because I want him to have his childhood. As a female artist, I see the mainstream music having a huge impact on our youth and it all seems to revolve around drugs, sex, money and fame. I was entranced by all of that as a teen but now not so much. That's why I keep my son away from it as long as I can so that I can make an impression on him first and foremost, before the mainstream tries to brainwash him. Now don't get me wrong, I love all sorts of music and even the songs that talk about the things I don't want him to hear. However, I think it's really important for a child to be able to mirror the goodness we have in ourselves before they break out into the world. I'm hoping that he'll grow into a kind, confident and well rounded person.
I think some people have a lot of stereotypes about single mothers. My son's father was physically and mentally abusive towards me in our relationship. He didn't leave me, I left him. I couldn't bear to raise my son in that kind of environment, so in 2006, I asked him to walk away indefinitely and I've been doing it by myself ever since. It hasn't been easy making that decision but we're doing alright. We're happy. I'm really thankful to have a mother who can pick up the slack for me at times because I don't know what bridge I'd be living under without her. Being a single parent isn't the end of the world. It doesn't mean I'm less capable of being a good parent. It doesn't hold me back. If anything, it makes me want to defy the statistics and do more, be more.
|SKORCH Magazine photoshoot|
HS: Do you enjoy fashion shoots?
AA: I love fashion shoots, despite my own lack of style! Fashion photography is really cutthroat. The nation is saturated with photographers trying to achieve the same status in fashion. It's very particular, especially high fashion shoots. You can't just go out and shoot. There is a lot of that goes into those photo shoots that some don't realize. I've had a few people ask me what my tricks are but if you went to a restaurant and had a great meal, you wouldn't go up to the chef and ask for the recipe. That's rude!
I absolutely love music and everything that comes along with it. I think that music is fashion and fashion is music. So I may not be doing a ton of fashion spreads for magazines and designers but for me, working with musicians is just as fun, if not even more exciting for me simply because of my passion for music.
|Model Erica Ellis in makeup by M'chel Bauxal|
HS: You never went back to college?
AA: I never did go to college. However, I applied several times over the years but life seemed to shift and force me to make different decisions. I was accepted to the Art Institute a few years back but that $80,000 just scared me! I was approved for loans of $60,000, but something would not let me do it. It was just too much money, too much time and too much of a headache. It meant a lot to be accepted to study interactive media design based on a photography portfolio I had shot with a Kodak camera. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to continue on the self-taught path. I've had a few photographers like Kate Singh, Marie Saturn and Arian Stevens show kindness, but in the end, when it comes to photography, you really have to do it all yourself. Either you have it or you don't. It's all been trial and error. Having a passion for painting and drawing, I have been able to dive into graphic design as well. I am constantly upgrading my skills, teaching myself how to do certain types of editing and such. I ended up learning how to build websites through making my own site for my business. Since then, I've designed many websites and have done many album designs and shoots. I was recently hired through a referral and had the opportunity to design a website for Elisa Fiorillo, who is a back-up singer for Prince and NPG. She is an awesome lady.
|Diana Z a contestant in America's Next Top Model Season 8|
HS: Tell us about your involvement with Occupy Portland?
AA: Well, I'm 100 percent in support of the Occupy Movement/ Occupy Together. I was actually one of the first 15 or so that initially met to organize in Portland. I designed some posters and told everyone I knew about it. But I kind of backed into the darkness when I saw a few egos surfacing. It seemed like there were enough people ready to take things on, so I figured my help wasn't really needed in the hands on aspect. I've been following mostly on a national and global level. I've been down to the camp a few times and to a couple of rallies. I have a horrible phobia of crowds so I've had to stay at the edge of the big events.
Unfortunately, the Portland movement is kind of fragmented and I think some of the people here don't support the movement much because of what they are witnessing in our own city. Perhaps some people are feeling inconvenienced or they simply have their own personal reasons for not supporting.
|Charlotte models designs by Art Institute graduate Korine Emmerich makeup and hair by Madeline Roosevelt |
Overall, the Occupy movement is really misunderstood in my opinion. The mainstream media is portraying it as one thing. The internet media is portraying it as another. And then, there's the real deal. It's not just about middle-class issues or college students and their J Crew sweaters and Starbucks giving it all a bad look. It isn't all about foreclosures and student loans. There are so many different people from different walks of life that are involved in this, all over the world. What we see in Portland is just a small piece of this huge obstacle we're all trying to get over, for the sake of man. That obstacle is the system we live in. So for me, it's about changing the broken system. It's about the corruption and the involvement with money in politics. It ruins everything. It has everything to do with what is wrong all over. Decisions that affect all of us are being made by people who are appointed to their political positions, who also have interest in corporate success. I'm not condoning taking down the corporations. I am a consumer. I think that businesses are great. But I do not support ex-CEO's of huge companies given positions in our system where they will make decisions based on the greater good of their pocket, and not our people. Everything in every corner of every one's woes has everything to do with the broken system. Each and every politician need to be fired. The constitution needs to be rewritten. There should be no money influencing the decisions made for our people. That's what I think.
HS: Where are the people of color in Occupy?
AA: Watching? Waiting? Anticipating? Contemplating? I can't speak for everyone but myself. I say these words as a low income single black mother. I say this as person who believes that change can happen, as long as we do it together. This is the opportunity so many have been waiting for. Unfortunately, we don't have great men like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King to help lead the way and inspire enough of us to take it to the streets. But there are plenty of people of color that support this movement and many that don't. Maybe it's just Portland. I see plenty of people of color in the YouTube videos of Oakland and NYC. People like Lupe Fiasco, Too Short, Boots Riley and Russell Simmons are 100 percent in support of this movement. In our city, perhaps some just may not be able to participate on the front lines. Maybe they are supporting in their own ways by shopping local or taking their money out of the banks. A lot of people of color have already 'occupied' their communities with their own programs. In Portland we have The Journey to Freedom Project, The N.A.P.P.I. project, the R.A.P.P. project, SEI and the SUN School just to name a few.
Protesting on a curb isn't for everyone and neither is camping in a city park. Perhaps some are feeling like this is all useless because it's a battle many people of color have been fighting for so long. But what is most important is that the masses are awake, becoming aware and doing their own research. What it is going to take to get everyone to come together simultaneously? It may be something as simple as time.
What is real about all of this is that the middle class will not be able to do this without the lower class. The people of non-color and people of color have to come together. And granted, a lot of the people we see on TV and in the YouTube videos are not people of color, and perhaps may have completely different views than what I have, but the bottom line is the same. This is our time to make history. The time is now!
HS: It can be hard to be an artist. Do you still have a day job?
AA: (Laughs) I've been self-employed since 2005. It can be tough. If my clients are broke, I'm broke because photography and graphics are not a necessity. Rent comes first. My last day job was in finance and I'm still kind of bitter about losing that job. For the first time in my life, I had a personality conflict with a co-worker. The woman waged a vendetta against me. She knew I was a single mother but tried for months to get me fired. In the end, she was promoted to my supervisor and I was fired for using the computer for personal emails (in which everyone did in that office). But the real reason she had it in for me was because I spoke up about her peddling diet pills in the office. I didn't want any part of it and if I have to say no six times politely, the seventh time, I'm not going to be so nice. That was that. But it was all a blessing in disguise because I would have never quit that job. It all led me to make a very important decision for myself and that was to not go back to corporate office work, counting other people's millions. Instead, I started to freelance doing whatever I could to make money and eventually discovered that I was at my best as an artist. I'm a better parent and person because I'm able to live as my natural self, an artist. It's what I do.
All photos courtesy of Adrian Adel Contact Adrian through her website adrianadel.com