GQ, Vogue, The New Yorker, The New York Times,
Bloomberg Businessweek, Free Men’s World
JAM Gallery, Bangkok; Bangkok Art & Culture Center;
Miami Street Photography Festival
Magnum 30 Under 30, National Geographic Photo Contest,
PDN Emerging Photographer, PDN World in Focus.
“My goal is to have photos that appeal to my mom,
to my mentors, to industry professionals, to artists and to guys on the street.
I’ve only ever taken two or maybe three that accomplish that. I want more.”
AS AN UNDERGRAD, Adam Birkan studied
photojournalism at Ohio University’s School of Visual
Communication, a program designed to train “staff
newspaper photographers,” says Birkan. For fun, he
and his friends would watch documentaries about
photographers. One, about William Eggleston, was
a revelation to Birkan. “After four years of hardcore
photojournalism, watching William Eggleston just blew
my mind,” he says. “The next day I was taking pictures
of cracks in the street.” While his studies had focused
on telling stories, Eggleston was appealing in that
“he doesn’t have grand ideas,” says Birkan.
His interest shifted from photojournalism to
photography as art, and after he graduated, Birkan
moved to Bangkok in search of an interesting place
to make pictures. With teaching English as a fall-back
plan, he began working on a personal project that
eventually became “All That Glitters,” a mix of street life
and architecture that comments on economic disparity.
Once he had a set of images he liked, he began submitting
them to “blogs that are good at getting your name out
there into the wild.” His work received some press and
awards, and editorial assignments began trickling in
from photo editors who had come across his work.
(He also emailed dozens of editors directly but says,
“I never ever got a single assignment that way.”) Most
of his bigger assignments have come in the past two
years, he says.
The low cost of living in Thailand allows Birkan
to choose assignments that offer the most creative
freedom, and to continue his explorations of places
that spark his interest, from studies of life on a Thai
island during the off-season to a look at the piecemeal
modernization of the capital of Vietnam. He’s planning
a trip to Israel to look for traces of recent and ancient
history in the landscape. Rather than plan an itinerary or
shot list for the trip, “I like to think I’ll find interesting
things,” he says. “But that’s what Eggleston taught
me—everything is interesting.”