In Conversation: David Adam Edelstein

Cynthia Haynes

David Adam Edelstein recently participated in the mentoring workshop with David duChemin in Florence, Italy, an intensive week designed to explore the creative process, hone each individual's photographic craft, and create a cohesive body of work. During his time exploring the city, David Adam fully embraced his inner semi-abstract street photographer and made magic amid the crowds. 

With the many potential subjects in a city the size of Florence, how did this become your series?

Although Florence is a beautiful city, it isn’t exotic to me in the way that, say, Jodhpur would be, or Lalibela was. On the other hand, it doesn’t look anything like Seattle, and I don’t speak the language well (nor many of the other tens of languages I heard there). In the end, I decided that I would use that combination of familiarity and dislocation to go deeper on my ongoing work, instead of coming up with a new series; I felt like that would pay off more. So my project was to extend that ongoing work, but instead of constantly shooting in motion like I normally do, I tried to “find a stage and wait for some action.”

Your self-imposed constraint was to bring one camera and two prime lenses (a 35mm and a 50mm); did that help or hinder? 

I’m going to say it helped, but mostly because that’s the combination I know best. I probably shoot 90% of my work with a 50mm lens. Especially when shooting on the street, this helps me because I have already started framing the shot before the camera even makes it up to my face. Sometimes I’ll step backward or forward as the camera as I'm raising the camera because I already know I want to get a little wider or tighter.

The other part of my constraint was that I brought a camera that only shoots in black and white. Again, this is my comfort zone, so the only real variable was the time I spent on the work and the way I was working. 

What were you looking for when making these photos? Was it light, shadow, motion? Something else? 

I’d say that what I’m looking for in this work is a momentary question, or unease, in the part of the viewer. I don’t necessarily want to disturb people, but I want this work to ask more questions than it answers. The motion, the shadow, the darkness, all of those are tools I’m using to help obscure anything that might help give the viewer context. I want to force them to create their own story.

So to that end, what were you thinking as you were creating these? Was the story cohesive early on or did it take awhile to reveal itself? Was there a particular feeling you wanted to create, or is this how Florence felt to you? 

I was coincidentally just reminded of a quote from poet William Stafford that pretty well describes how I work: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”

So although I knew that I wanted this work to be about questions and loss of context, I couldn’t have imagined that these were the exact photos I would end up with. For me, this whole body of work is about being receptive to chance and about letting the mechanics of the camera reveal these scenes and images that I would have otherwise missed.

The great thing about this week in Florence was the oceans of time I had to just stand in one place and be receptive. The panda photo (below) is a great example of that. On the final Friday morning, I thought I had my selection set. We all went to lunch, and then on the way back to the hotel I decided to spend a little more time at one of the places I had been working that week. And in that hour the panda photo happened, and it became the perfect last photo in my workshop portfolio.

Now that we know the why, tell us the how: how much is done in camera, and how much in post-production?

My process is pretty traditional. I don’t do what most people would consider photo manipulation, but I’ve always been a manipulative printer, from when I worked in the darkroom to now. What I mean is that I do a lot of work on contrast, burning and dodging, and so forth, all in an effort to direct the viewer’s eye and emphasize the parts of the image that tell the story the best. I never want a photograph to mumble.

If you could be in a room where these photographs were exhibited and no one knew they were yours, what would you hope to hear people say about them?

That is a really good question. I’d love to hear someone describing a memory that one of the photos had triggered, some kind of emotional event that the ambiguity in one of the photos had brought up for them. I wouldn’t necessarily want anyone to like all of them; just that they have a strong response to one photo.

Interested to find out more about the mentor? New dates and places will be announced soon, so be sure you're on the list to be among the first to find out when and where. 

David Adam Edelstein grew up in Hawai'i and China, and currently lives and works in Seattle, Washington with his brilliant daughter and smart, beautiful wife, neither of whom take any of his whiny artistic crap. He has had a camera with him at all times since his parents made the expensive mistake of giving him one when he was eight. He thinks sharpness is overrated and is moderately distrustful of color. See more of his work at

Craft & Technique David Adam Edelstein Interview

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  • Sorry but pictures and text are both gobbledygook to me.

    Dawn Penso on
  • Really good ! I first thought this was a “known” artist.
    Progress to the pictures on his website !
    What a concentrated workshop can effect !

    Bernd on
  • Words aside, this body of work stands on its own. I believe a truly wonderful aesthetic was achieved through the use of forethought, motion, tactful composition, and organic processing. I appreciate his thought process behind the creation of each of these, as they convey so much more than a technically sound image could.

    Matthew Gillooley on
  • David Adam Edelstein’s esoteric comments match his haphazard images perfectly…both come across as unimaginative and bland all the while trying just a little too hard to be valid.

    San WArzone' on

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