Sabb Adams: Life & Havana

Growing up in Nottingham with little to do in his area, Sabb spent £2,000 of his student loan on a camera just for the fun of it and the next coming years was filled riding around Nottingham with his friends taking pictures. “I’d never seen that many digits in my bank account before and I went and dropped it all on a camera, first thing” he jokingly tells us, but I guess it’s paying off because that small hobby has now turned into the stepping stones for a big career, with Sabb having already shot multiple shoots for Complex, Noisey, Nike, AfroPunk, and had his work featured on The Fader, VICE and Amuse, just to name a couple.

  Sabb Adams shot by 94Five -   More at 94Five.tumblr

Sabb Adams shot by 94Five - More at 94Five.tumblr

After moving to London last September, with all his equipment at hand, his first shoot was with model and musician Connie Constance who he reached out to, the photo they casually took was posted on Noisey as a press shot for her newly debuted music and it proved the move was worth while, “that showed me how much living in London can push your work forward”. 

The photos we’ve seen from Sabb are often candid in style, usually of rappers and musicians, merging the worlds of music and imagery. The vibrant colours that seem to be a staple from him make his work stand out amongst other young photographers who seem to focus on less saturated and softer style images.  

What is it about colour that your always wanting to incorporate within your photos?  

“I remember editing a photo, I always have two versions of an edit and I asked my Dad which one was better, he said he liked the coloured one but I said that people in the photography world see it as amateur photography because it’s over saturated but he just said it’s art, it looks good, that’s what matters and that stuck with me […] but over the years I’ve realised when I boost the colours it looks better to me, it’s what I’m drawn to” 

What do you normally shoot on?

“I have 6 cameras, one’s a polaroid, but the main ones I shoot on are my point-and-shoot, and my Canon 5D […] I edit on Lightroom, but I used to use Photoshop a lot when I was back in Nottingham, before photography, I did a lot of graphic design for mixtape covers for artists there.” 

What kind of music do you listen to when you shoot and edit?

“With girls I like to play The Weeknd […] I think it makes them relaxed and in a dance-y mood. When I edit though, I play instrumentals […] I like to play Cuban music now”

Which brings us to the magical Cuba trip that we’ve seen images of splashed throughout his Instagram in glorious colour. While spending some time with a friend in a Cuban cafe in Camden he thought the artwork was vintage in style until his friend pointed out this is what Cuba is actually like. “He said I should go there to shoot […] I thought maybe I’d go at like age 26 or 27 but ended up going this May that just passed”. He went alone, across the world to rejuvenate himself after all the work he’d done, with so much happening in his life since living alone in London. The next step was to travel alone and so Cuba came about as a photography trip but surprisingly became so much more for Sabb. 

“Hanging out with one guy I met there who let me into peoples homes within his area, I got some of the best photos, I slept at his one night and woke up in the morning, walked out on to the balcony and this guy was just watching tv - it was such a great photo.” As Sabb spoke about Cuba you could tell it was remembered with so much warmth and the fact that people welcomed him meant that the photos taken were real. We sat as he told us stories, like one of a little kid holding a mouse trying to scare him in the streets, which ended up as a great shot with the sun beaming through the young boys ears.

What did you learn from your time in Cuba?

“Number one, I learnt that I can trust myself […] the night before I thought what the hell am I doing. I was like, Mum what am I doing, I'm going across the globe! […] but I learnt that people are people”. The experienced humbled him and speaking with Sabb that was a quality that was so pleasantly surprising, I think it’s common now to meet creatives with a lot of ego and bravado because of this wave of Kanye type confidence. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing at all, but it’s refreshing to meet a talent who’s still so down to earth. Whether this is down to Cuba or not, I guess I don’t know but it made for great story telling. 

“After I went to Cuba I went to Toronto for a week, a little kid ripped my hat which was kind of expensive and because I had come from Cuba it didn't even matter to me, I didn't care at all […] it made me not care about material things […] people are so humble there.”

“I was walking around with my big DSLR after I started feeling comfortable because I knew I was safe, a Cuban guy grabbed my arm to ask for money and as I reached to get change, another cuban guy grabbed me and said to the other, don’t do that, your embarrassing us […] the community came round and asked if I was okay […] I said it was fine, I understand, he has nothing to eat but the guy told me, it’s okay, we all have nothing to eat, we don’t need to ask for anything […] that was so strange for me to see as an outsider, it taught me you don’t have to be rich to be happy”                 

Taking 5 cameras along with him to Cuba (all, except the Polaroid) meant that Sabb came home with over 2,000 photos and what better way to share them with the world than through his soon to be released book titled “Havana”. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the chosen shot for the cover - a stunning photo that reflected the essence of the people of Cuba, who are the centre point for his series of photos. The shot truly reflects the idea of the eyes being the window to the soul, I wont ruin it for you, but it’s a photo worth seeing so keep a look out for the “Havana” project.

(On the “Havana” photo’s) “they tell stories and every time I look at them it makes more sense […] in an exhibition you just see it once so I felt a book would be even better.” His Instagram sneak peeks into the Cuban photos always come along with beautiful stories as captions that give a little insight into the shot and the book will have the same, “There’s a few photos where I really went through something or spoke to someone to get that photo”. You'll also get a few extra bits to take with you that he brought from Cuba when purchasing the book, lucky us. 

Throughout the interview with Sabb he spoke fondly of his family and always reflected on his life in Nottingham. Delving into his upbringing and inspirations it was clear to see that his father was important to him. 

What past era do you think inspires your style?

“70’s, 80’s and a lot of the 90’s inspires me for sure […] I don't know anyone who has more baby photos than me and my brother” The countless childhood pictures have inspired him a lot. “my dad literally has cases full of them, he's for sure taken more pictures of us growing up than I have taken altogether” Although the overall concept of those loving baby photos inspire him, he doesn't necessarily pin it as direct influence. “I feel like I'm better at editing photos than at taking them […] I know how to manipulate image and make any effect, so I stick to my style” 

All of this success is made even more surprising once we found out his dreams are actually in filmmaking rather than photography. “I want to be a filmmaker, a Director […] I want to start out with music video projects [and] build the experience to go into narrative and film production”. Well if his photography is anything to go by, his filmmaking will be something special, and next year as he makes that his focus, we will be keeping our eyes peeled.

Who inspires you're work? 

“Nabil Elderkin is partly the reason I do what I do […] Dexter Navy, Isaac Bauman. Nabil Elderkin I think has had an amazing career, I would love to shape my career like his if I could, but of course you know everyone has their own type of path”. Nabil cleverly bought the domain name of ‘’ in the early stages of his career and in exchange for the name once Kanye’s people realised, he only asked to be able to shoot him, rather than accept the money they offered. Him buying that domain gave Sabb the idea to implement the same technique when shooting Skepta - he sent the photo to Complex and once they asked how much money he wanted for it, Sabb only asked for more work in exchange - a smart business mind. “If it wasn't for that I wouldn’t have done all the work I have with them shooting time and time again.” 

These are all visual creatives who have influenced not just his photography but people who he also admires as filmmakers and shape his desire to do both. Also mentioned as inspiration was Cindy Sherman, Tyrone Lebon, and the famous Terry Richardson who got Sabb looking into film photography and last but not least, his Dad. 

When you're shooting is there a particular method?

I think my favourite shots are the ones that you didn't even plan. Like, when I have taken 30 shots on my film with 6 left and I’ll just snap them to finish the roll before I go, them spontaneous ones are the best. You can’t plan it” 

What’s you're favourite shot you've taken so far?

“It’s a photo of my little brother […] I first bought my little point-and-shoot for a family holiday in Dubai, my little brother was 3 at the time, I just took a photo of him real quick, I took it at a weird angle, I didn’t even think it was going to come out at the time, it was a quick photo, but to this day it’s my favourite picture of all time” 

What’s your future plans?

2017 is strictly for filmmaking […] I didn't expect all of this to happen this year, from working with Complex and Nike […] if more opportunities like that come about I’ll do it but […] I’m gonna focus on film for sure”

The young creative has a talent that keeps on growing and we’re lucky to have caught him this early on as it seems there is only bigger and better to come from here. You can follow Sabb Adams on Instagram and Twitter to get glimpses of his work and stay tuned for the release of his first book “Havana”.