Cardi B for Billboard. Zendaya for Essence. And most recently, Lady Gaga for The Hollywood Reporter. These have without a doubt been some of the most powerful, captivating and just plain exciting magazine covers of the past year.
What they all have in common, besides the fact that they actually make you stop scrolling, are the maestros behind the camera: Ahmad Barber and Donté Maurice, the Atlanta-based photographers behind the studio moniker AB+DM. (Interestingly, some of their best work has been for entertainment magazines, which aren't typically known for their high-fashion covers.)
Indeed, Barber's fashion-movement approach and Maurice's intimate portrait background have made them one of the industry's most sought after image makers. Having formed together in 2018 after working for some time individually, the duo quickly made a name for themselves capturing celebrities through an elevated and artistic lens.
Their latest project, however, is perhaps their most significant yet. Black Fashion Fair, the retail and culture platform founded by Antoine Gregory last year (and of which AB+DM are the Directors of Art & Photography), is releasing their first print publication with "Volume 0: Seen," a 200-page collection of Black fashion's past, present and future. The inaugural issue, which features no advertisements, is supported by Warby Parker.
AB+DM, who came on as creative directors, shot multiple editorials and two of the three print covers: one of model Maria Borges wearing Sergio Hudson and Aleya Ali wearing a look from Pyer Moss' first couture show. (Quil Lemons shot the third cover.) The issue includes contributions from Black scholars and writers and features collections from all Black designers including Brandon Blackwood, Anifa and Theophilio.
Here, AB+DM reflect on the importance of Black Fashion Fair's first issue, their creative process and vision, working with Black talent and the evolution of their careers.
One of two covers shot by AB+DM for Black Fashion Fair's inaugural issue. (Photography by AB+DM/ Courtesy of Black Fashion Fair)
What did you involvement "Volume 0: Seen" look like and how does it differ from past projects?
Ahmad Barber: We've kind of been there since the beginning of Black Fashion Fair and have had a great working with Antoine [Gregory].We've always had dreams of shooting covers, but also of art directing issues. We used to watch YouTube videos of photographers doing it all the time, putting together their own issues and all that stuff like that.
Donté Maurice: I think with this, it was really about seeing the 360 process. We're not usually involved with things outside of the photo shoot, like layout, design, art direction. So this magazine definitely taught us the ins and outs of what that process is involving and gave us an opportunity to really see that photo editing is not as easy as it seems from a photography perspective.
What are some things you enjoyed the most about the entire process?
Donté: We came into the industry shooting Black designers, but I think the difference is we came in through the celebrity fashion cover, editorial route. So this time we kind of stripped that away and it's just like we're working with models and it was definitely like a different experience on our end, because it's been a long time since we had the chance to really work with models, having blank slates to create and inform these new worlds and these new images and show really how versatile we can be in the photography world.
How did you guys first connect with Antoine Gregory?
Ahmad: It was actually via a tweet, I think a couple years ago. This is when Kerby [Jean-Raymond] of Pyer Moss did that show at King's Theater. And I remember tweeting that I can't wait to shoot this collection one day. Who would've thought that a year later, we would've all collaborated with Antoine photographing that same collection, allowing that to be the first story of Black Fashion Fair and then to now photographing the couture collection. It's been great in terms of developing not only a working relationship, but a friendship and really being a support system for each other, as he's a stylist as well. And so he bounces his ideas off of us and we bounce ideas off of him as well.
An image inside Black Fashion Fair Volume 0. (Photography by AB+DM/ Courtesy of Black Fashion Fair)
What have you learned most about your time with BFF thus far?
Donté: I feel like at this point we're ingrained into the fabric of BFF and we're just blessed and honored and grateful to even be a part of it in such a way, because we know it's gonna be something big and it's doing something really amazing for this industry, for Black designers, for Black creators all together. You want to be a part of helping create that space, because people helped create that space for us. I would say that's also another lesson that we learned, is how to search and find and make sure that people are also getting opportunities, other photographers, other creatives as well. There definitely is a way to balance and give more people opportunities to be a designer, be it hair, makeup, photography, whatever, especially in this vast fashion industry.
Speaking of opportunities, I know you've mentioned stylist Law Roach as someone who helped open doors for you. How did that happen?
Ahmad: Law took a risk on us. He saw what was unseen at the moment and trusted us enough from one shoot to feel that in working with another one of his clients, another publication that has a very large platform and to give us a September issue cover. That was crazy. He was just talking to his teams and talking to the photo editors and was just like you got to try and give these boys a chance. And I think that was one of the major things that really helped platform and really helped challenge us, because we went from swimming in the ponds to now, we're in the open sea. We're in the big time now.
Donté: I think we are seeing this new era of new faces, so to speak, be it Black or be it other underrepresented groups getting opportunities because someone else decided to pay it forward in that way and open those doors. And I think when you ask, what does it take? It literally only takes a connection. Most of our opportunities are not because of our Instagram and not because of us having covers out, or even knowing what to do. You're going to the situation not knowing anything.
What's next for AB+DM?
We've done more together than we could ever do separately. It's been crazy, it might be one of the best decisions we've ever made. The past year and a half has been like a snowball effect of people learning who we are and liking what we were doing. It's definitely been a challenge this year to step outside of our comfort zones, because we've gotten comfortable. We had a formula when it came to shooting our work last year but now we want to push ourselves and continue to be a better help to the Black photography community and the community in general, for sure.