Virginia photographer sees success with ominous images

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Lamp Light, 2011, by Adam Landis. Photography. Copyright © 2011 Adam Landis. Used by permission of the artist.

Most think of a mouth sewn shut or an old, abandoned home as horror movie staples, but photographer Adam Landis sees them as fine-art subjects in the viewfinder of his Nikon D700.

Landis, 21, of Richmond, Virginia, started snapping photos as a high school junior in Virginia Beach after a photography class ignited his passion.

In college Landis tried out a black background, which has been a common motif in many of his images. After making a website for class, Landis said, he settled on the background to prevent the images on the site from having an edge around them and has employed the technique ever since.

This concentration and appreciation for darker tones also informs the composition of his work in the form of dramatic underexposures. To achieve this and those aesthetics, Landis said he mainly works in a studio with professional lighting.

While most photographers jump at the chance to manipulate the light of photos to get a clearer shot, Landis, keeping with his macabre style, sees more use in playing Pied Piper to the shadows of his images.

“It’s too easy to focus on beauty in the traditional sense, but there is something to be said about the macabre and the grotesque that captures our attention,” Landis said of his love of all things dark, mysterious and foreboding. “I find it fascinating, and I want to share that with others.”

Landis said he draws a great deal of inspiration from New York photographer Joey L., having narrowed down his own artistic process by watching the Photoshop tutorials of this Lebowitz-esque artist.

But personal connections still remain Landis’ biggest inspiration, with his greatest source coming from peers and even family members. His current series, The Shifting, was inspired by an argument with his aunt regarding medical tests being performed on prisoners and depicts a well to-do family being experimented on by their doctor.

Landis’ high school friend Jacob McCoy, 20, has found Landis inspiring in his own right.

“It’s too easy to focus on beauty in the traditional sense, but there is something to be said about the macabre and the grotesque that captures our attention.”

McCoy, who also dabbles in photography, was introduced to photography by Landis while the two were focusing on another creative endeavor — music.

“The things he’s creating are absolutely breathtaking,” McCoy said.

But even more breathtaking, McCoy said, is his process to create these images, specifically Landis’ haunting ability to work models like “puppets,” giving them very little direction, physically, to get them to pose, look or react in the manner he is striving for.

“He really pays attention to his passions,” McCoy said. “He really sets his mind to something, and he makes sure he can align everything to get to that goal that he set.”

But these technical and personal skills aren’t his only talents, said Shane Rocheleau, his concepts professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“One of his obvious talents is that he’s technically skilled and aesthetically aware,” Rocheleau said. “[But I’m] most excited by his historic-contemporary awareness that many students don’t have at this point in their lives.”

Rocheleau said he sees immense professional potential for Landis.

“Feeble,” 2014, by Adam Landis. Photography. Copyright © 2014 Adam Landis. Used by permission of the artist.
Feeble, 2014, by Adam Landis. Photography. Copyright © 2014 Adam Landis. Used by permission of the artist.

“Right now, if I were to shoot him out of a cannon into five years from now, he’d be working in the commercial arts,” Rocheleau said. “My goal would be to let him see he’d be a working artist out of the contemporary realm.”

Landis is already getting accolades for his work, having won the David Levinson award from a juried collegiate gallery at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center.

But Landis finds reactions to his work, specifically questions and comments on social media, to be the biggest reward from his work.

“People are seeing it and some are seeing it in a way that they can’t avoid seeing it, and it changes the way they see, subconsciously, which is what art should do,” Landis said. “If I can touch one or two people with an image, then that’s enough to be happy.

To learn more about Landis and his work, check out his Facebook page.


Adam Rhodes is a staff writer for Professional Artist. Originally from Boca Raton, he’s a striving student journalist with hopes of being a feature writer. Adam is currently a journalism student minoring in criminology in his final year at the University of Central Florida.