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AB+DM on Photographing Black Fashion Fair’s First Magazine

Cardi B for Billboard. Zendaya for Gasoline. And more recently, Lady Gaga for The Hollywood Reporter. These have undoubtedly been some of the most powerful, captivating, and simply thrilling magazine covers of the past year.

What they all have in common, besides making you stop scrolling, are the maestros behind the camera: Ahmad Barber and Donté Maurice, the Atlanta-based photographers behind the AB+DM studio moniker. (Interestingly, some of their best work has been for entertainment magazines, which aren’t generally known for their high fashion covers.)

Indeed, Barber’s approach to the fashion movement and Maurice’s intimate portraiture experience have made him one of the most sought after image makers in the industry. Having formed together in 2018 after working individually for some time, the duo quickly made a name for themselves capturing celebrities through an elevated and artistic lens.

Their latest project, however, is perhaps their biggest to date. Black Fashion Fair, the retail and culture platform founded by Antoine Gregory last year (and of which AB+DM are the Art & Photography Directors), is releasing its first paper publication with “Volume 0: Vu”, a 200-page collection of past, present and future of black fashion. The inaugural issue, which features no advertising, is supported by Warby Parker.

AB+DM, who came on as creative directors, photographed several 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’ debut 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 reflects on the importance of the first issue of Black Fashion Fair, their creative process and vision, working with black talent and growing their careers.

One of two covers photographed by AB+DM for the inaugural issue of Black Fashion Fair. (Photography by AB+DM / Courtesy of Black Fashion Fair)

What was your involvement in “Volume 0: Seen” like and how does it differ from previous projects?

Ahmad Barber: We’ve kind of been there since the start of Black Fashion Fair and we’ve had a great job with Antoine [Gregory].We have always dreamed of shooting covers, but also of doing art direction. We used to watch YouTube videos of photographers doing this all the time, putting together their own issues and all that kind of stuff.

Donté Maurice: I think that with that, it was really a question of seeing the process at 360°. We are usually not involved in things outside of the photo shoot, like layout, design, art direction. So this magazine definitely taught us the ins and outs of this process and gave us the opportunity to really see that photo editing isn’t as easy as it looks from a photography perspective. .

What are the things you liked the most about the whole process?

Donté: We entered the industry by photographing black designers, but I think the difference is that we entered through the celebrity fashion coverage, the editorial route. So this time we kind of removed that and it’s 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’ve had a chance to really working with models, having blank slates to create and inform these new worlds and these new images and really show how versatile we can be in the world of photography.

How did you meet Antoine Gregory for the first time?

Ahmad: It was actually via a tweet, I think a few years ago. It was then that Kerby [Jean-Raymond] by Pyer Moss did this show at the King’s Theatre. And I remember tweeting that I can’t wait to shoot this collection one day. Who would have thought that a year later we would all have collaborated with Antoine to photograph this same collection, allowing this to be the first story of Black Fashion Fair and then to now photograph the couture collection. It’s been great in terms of developing not only a working relationship, but also a friendship and a real support system for each other, as he’s also a stylist. And so he makes us rebound his ideas and we also make him rebound ideas.

An image inside Volume 0 of Black Fashion Fair. (Photograph by AB+DM/Courtesy of Black Fashion Fair)

What have you learned the most about your time with BFF so far?

Donté: I feel like at this point we’re in the fabric of BFF and we’re just blessed and honored and grateful to be a part of it in this way because we know it’s going to be something big and it works something really amazing for this industry, for black designers, for black designers all together. You want to be part of creating this space because people have helped create this space for us. I would say that’s also another lesson we’ve learned is how to seek and find and make sure people have opportunities too, other photographers, other creatives too. There’s definitely a way to balance it out and give more people the opportunity to be a designer, whether it’s hair, makeup, photography, whatever, especially in this vast fashion industry.

Speaking of opportunities, I know you mentioned stylist Law Roach as someone who opened doors for you. How did it happen?

Ahmad: Law took a risk on us. He saw what was unseen at the moment and trusted us enough of a shoot to feel that way working with another of his clients, another publication that has a really big platform and to give us coverage of the issue of September. It was crazy. He was just talking to his crews and photo editors and being like you should try to give these boys a chance. And I think that’s one of the main things that really helped the platform and really helped us challenge ourselves, because we went from swimming in ponds to now we’re in high seas. We’re in big time now.

Donté: I think we’re seeing this new era of new faces, so to speak, whether it’s black people or other underrepresented groups who get opportunities because someone else has decided to pay it forward in this way and to open these doors. And I think when you ask, what does it take? It literally only takes one connection. Most of our opportunities aren’t because of our Instagram or having covers, or even knowing what to do. You go to the situation without knowing anything.

What’s next for AB+DM?

We have done more together than we could ever do separately. It was crazy, it could be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. The past year and a half has been like a snowball effect, people have learned who we are and liked what we do. Stepping out of our comfort zones has certainly been a challenge this year, as we felt 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 helper to the black photography community and the community in general, for sure.

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Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes