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“We wanted to create something that felt limitless. ” Inspired by Eileen and Janet Jackson’s well-known Scream music video , the creative duo unpack their current futuristic fashion story
As being a creative duo, AB+DM – made up of Atlanta-based photographers Ahmad Barber and Donté Maurice – have barely been on the scene a year. For the reason that time, they’ve shot over 30 covers: the likes of Zendaya, Cardi B, Naomi Osaka and Anne Hathaway, just for titles including Essence , Vogue Hong Kong , GQ and In fashion . More startling, still, is that they’ve achieved all this in the same year that a global pandemic shut down the production industries. “Every day definitely feels like a ‘thank you, Jesus’ instant, ” says 26-year-old Maurice. “A true blessing. ”
For the latest cover associated with Nylon , the pair were tasked with capturing Willow Smith – artist, Red Table talk host and more complex Hollywood royalty – since she rages headfirst in to a new “pop-punk” era. Right now known professionally as WILLOW, the 20-year-old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith has come quite a distance since her Whip The Hair days. She still shaved her head on phase during a punk rendition of the 2010 hit last 30 days: an act she details as marking a “monumental [time] in my life, when things are actually changing”.
AB+DM’s energy as they talk about Smith over Zoom lens is infectious. It’s seven: 30pm in London, but speaking to them is like a welcome splash of water towards the face. “Before we understood we were doing this job, i was jamming out to her first single when she do her big rock unveiling, ” says 30-year-old Barber. “She’s such an inspiring individual to shoot, because you just know she’s going to be down with the get-down” (“Oh, she definitely was, ” chimes in Maurice).
Taking place over the course of a day at Popsicle Studio, LA, the capture yielded two eye-popping alternate covers: in one, Smith harnesses over the lens in a highly advanced black and white Annakiki outfit; enclosed in a white box, yet larger than life. In the other, she dons a striking Schiaparelli headpiece (think extra-terrestrial meets heavy glamour), the girl bare skin bathed within rich shadow (“Somehow, the Schiaparelli piece always winds up on our sets, ” Barber laughs. “Every shoot, ” echoes Maurice).
Karen Hibbert, senior vice president associated with creative at Nylon, had arrived at the duo with a creative treatment inspired by Erina and Janet Jackson’s iconic Scream music video (1995). In it, the brother and sister cavort around a prevent white, hyper-modern spaceship. Maurice and Barber then countered with an extended moodboard, pressing the concept further: “How may we make this more modern? How do we bring more of a punk couture feel to it? ” Much of their research consisted of scouring Smith’s past shoots – along with how Scream references have been produced and reproduced within popular culture – in order to conjure something utterly distinctive. “Everybody’s seen black and white. Everybody’s seen LED walls, ” says Maurice. “We wanted to create something that felt endless. ”
The day wasn’t without having its challenges: attempting (and, for a long while, failing) to make strobe lighting work in conjunction with an LED ceiling; grappling with the stark reflectiveness of the Schiaparelli headpiece (“I produced the mistake of wearing a light shirt that day, ” laughs Barber). But ultimately, Smith made it easy; scuba diving into the concept, and which makes it her own. “There was zero push back, ” says Barber, warmly. “No aversion as to what we wanted to do. ” Generally, AB+DM like to select shots on set – “It’s like America’s Following Top Model, ” jokes Maurice – and the singer got stuck into this part of the process, too.
Central to the pair’s success, it seems, is their capability to build connections that operate “deeper than the job”. Hibbert sought out AB+DM to take Smith after hitting this off with the pair if they shot Olivia Rodrigo for the May issue. “We attempt to think beyond just what’s happening on set, ” reflects Barber, “like, okay, we got the job performed — but how are we following up? How are we communicating? Do you know the relationships that we’re developing? ” On the slim possibility that a publication’s creative team wouldn’t fall in love with them, “we want the talent to express it’s either AB+DM, or maybe the highway, ” laughs Maurice.
After listening to them finish one another’s phrases for an hour, it is surprising to learn that Barber plus Maurice only connected initially via Instagram in 2018. After admiring one another’s work from afar, they assisted each other on a handful of shoots, before launching AB+DM Studio in May 2020. Actually the pair are full of impresses. Barber has a degree in biology and maths, and nearly opted for medical school; “I’m a super nerd, ” he says. Maurice had initially planned to be an professional: “Yeah, that didn’t exercise at all, ” he laughters.
They’re both self-taught in photography, but eventually, they “became mentors to each other”. Where Maurice specialised in portraiture and intimate shoots, Barber thrilled in capturing movement, style and wide angles. Where Barber considers himself the “mental, cerebral” part of AB+DM – nailing their logistics, processes and gear – he describes Maurice since the “the feeling, the soul”: constantly joking and dancing around with the talent.
“Once we met, all of us realised we were so within sync in a way that felt honestly uncanny, ” says Barber. “Since that moment, we’ve never looked back. ”