The surreal art of conceptual photography

Syazwani Hj Rosli

As part of conceptual art, conceptual photography is a genre in which photographers create a picture out of a concept or idea, and convey ideas or messages through the image. Conceptual photography is very imaginative – almost unreal.

Often, abstract is considered as one of the most important elements in conceptual photography. Adam Hague is a local conceptual artist who works with the medium of digital photography.

He has won a number of photography competitions locally and internationally such as the Canon Photo Marathon Brunei for the years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, as well as the ASEAN Korea Multimedia Competition in 2011 and 2012.

“My work is predominantly surreal art, often inspired by real life,” he shared.

Photography began as a hobby for Adam. He bought his first DSLR camera in 2008, which he got secondhand from eBay.

ABOVE & BELOW: Conceptual photos done by Adam Hague. PHOTOS: ADAM HAGUE

Adam Hague in Korea for the ASEAN-Korea Train programme
‘This may be the last time’ by Adam Hague

“The camera came with a lens that had an auto focus that sometimes didn’t work.

“I can barely remember the first thing I photographed, but probably something mundane.” He recalled that when he first started with photography, he shot pretty much everything, from landscape to portraits.

After some time, he felt that the photos that he took lacked meaning.

“It was when I came across the works of well-known conceptual photographers like Aaron Nace and Brooke Shaden that I discovered my passion for producing or marking artwork that has depth and meaning”.

Adam said most of the projects he focusses on are surreal self-portraits. He said, “For me, it has become a very organic way of work. Having the ability to create the artwork exactly how I imagined it. It becomes escapism, of sorts. Surreal style of imagery allows my ideas, my creativity and my thoughts to be expressed in the ways my mind had imagined it, without limitations. I’m constantly inspired by human things like emotions and day-to-day events.”

When asked about his photographic approach, he admitted that he is very critical of his own work because the essence and meaning of a photo always comes first.

He always tries to stay very minimal in terms of the gears he uses because he does not like to be constrained by technicalities while doing his projects.

Before starting a photo shoot session, Adam said that his ideas and concepts come back to the very basis of “what the photo is about”.

“Understanding why a certain prop is used in a photo and its relevance to the concept is very important. Every element that I use in a photo has a reason and purpose. This includes elements such as lighting, mood and colours,” he added.

Speaking about his accomplishments, he said that he also participated in a number of exhibitions outside of Brunei such as ‘Art Takes Times Square’ in New York, the ‘ASEAN Korea Multimedia Exhibition’ by the ASEAN Korea Centre and the ‘POST-REPOST-SHARE’ at the Bangkok of Arts and Culture Centre (BACC) in Thailand.

He shared that winning competitions in Brunei and Korea were achievements in his photography journey.

“The Canon Photo Marathon was a lot of fun. During the competition, we only had a few hours to take one photo based on a particular theme announced on that same day. No editing of any kind was allowed so it really took me out of my comfort zone.

“It was an amazing challenge as it pushed me to be creative in a limited amount of time. As for the Korea photo competition, it was my first international win. It was amazing because I got to meet a lot of individuals with amazing talents”.

Having won the ASEAN Korea Multimedia Competition, Adam spoke on being acknowledged and invited for the ASEAN-Korea Train programme held recently in South Korea. “I appreciate the acknowledgement.

“It allowed me some amazing opportunities to meet interesting individuals and learn different cultures during the programme.

“When shooting an image, it usually doesn’t take me very long because I usually have it all planned out, from the sketch, to what lens I am going to use, to the pose and camera angles.

“So it only takes between 10 to 20 minutes. Most of the time, the consuming part was editing,” he explained when asked of his planning in capturing his photos.

Adam said the most important component of an exhibition level photo would be the essence and its meaning.

Browsing through Adam photo album which is posted on his social media profiles, short texts and quotes accompanied each of his artwork. He said those captions are what he has written in his sketchbook which is personal to him. When asked about his favourite photo, he said that he feels attached to all of the works he has produced. But, one photo that is special to him is an image he created called This may be the last time.

“This was one of my earliest conceptual self-portrait works using my first DSLR. When I was doing this photo, the horse approached us for a few seconds allowing me to capture the image.

“At that time, I wasn’t even sure if the photo was successfully captured,” he shared. Adam believes that social media, as a platform to showcase his artwork, is a good way to get connected and a great place to find inspiration and discover other photographers. Posting his artwork, he just wants to leave it up to the viewers to decide how they feel about his photos. “Art, as we know it, is subjective. Emotion is different for different people. That is what’s special about it.

“For those wanting to venture into conceptual photography, just be yourself. Focus on your craft. Make it your own without being a copy of someone else’s work,” he said.