Adam Bird is Rapid Growth Media
's new Managing Photographer, and he is very hard to miss -- a slender, bespectacled gentleman of indeterminate age who sports linens or tweeds (depending on the season) with unusual and considered elegance. His wardrobe tempts the imagination into wondering whether he might be some defrosted throwback, a gateway to an era when sharp tailoring was a simple universal standard. Due to these charming outfits, I had quite lazily assumed that Bird might be a fervent eccentric; in fact, he is relentlessly sharp and measured -- a coolly self-assured and busy professional.
At 22, he realized he could either keep wearing "18-hole work boots and baggy pants" in an act of quite standard rebellion, or he could mature into someone more memorable. He left for a two-semester student exchange to Kingston University in London in 2002. The only clothes he took were the ones on his back, his theory being that he didn't want to be a tourist, but would instead immerse himself in the British way of life. It was here that he began his aesthetic renovations
His decision to become a photographer came much earlier; Bird was only 10 when he stole his father's camera, stashing the Pentax SLR at his mother's house where he could explore it uninterrupted. Bird says it was with this camera that he first became infatuated, fascinated by the "forced engagement" with his surroundings that the camera provided him. Apart from a brief childhood ambition to become an Egyptologist (which he later realized was "unrealistic"), his desire to photograph remained at the forefront of his plans. Bird admits that he never experienced the flailing confusion that many young adults contend with when choosing an area of study. This ability to decipher his own strengths and maneuver them to his advantage seems to be unwavering.
Bird spent some of his high school years as editor of the yearbook, a position which provided him with a lot of free film and access to a darkroom. This opportunity was not wasted on him; by 17, Bird was also freelancing for the Brighton Argus and the Livingston County Press. Bird says that although he was "prickly" at high school, not making swathes of friends, it did not concern him. He was invested in his photography; his camera gave him "license to be an observer."
He continued freelancing when moving onto college, attending Grand Valley State University where he studied journalism and photography as separate disciplines, adding to his bow the position of photo editor and then managing editor at the school's paper, the Grand Valley Lanthorn. Bird was prolific, shooting 20-30 rolls of film per week. While a sophomore at college, Bird says that he managed to "blag" his way into a Detroit Pistons game, through the Lanthorn, wielding his cameras alongside the professionals. Each space on the baseboards designated for a photographer was marked with a business card. Bird says that he perused these cards until he found the name he was looking for: Carlos Osorio, senior photographer for the Associated Press' Detroit Bureau. Bird admits that he has always been "cheeky," and it was probably this cheekiness that helped him to gain freelance work through Osorio on premise rather than example. Not much later, it was suggested to him by professors that he needed guidance outside of what the Grand Valley curriculum could offer him for photojournalism.
Bird therefore made the decision to spend two semesters in Kingston, a time which proved integral to his progress. Also fundamentally integral was the decision he made around this time to spend the entirety of an early inheritance on his first digital camera. The Nikon D1h, boasting only 2.74 Mega pixels, "couldn't hold a candle to film," he says, but it equipped him with something very few people had. His foresight is part of an essential formula which keeps him relevant. He was freelancing for Agence France Presse
as well as The Associated Press in London before a Visa complication meant that he had to leave the UK much sooner than he had planned. Using carpentry skills he had cultivated as a young man, he built his friend a deck in exchange for a one-way ticket back to the States. Following a brief hiatus in Detroit, he headed back to Grand Rapids in 2003.
The Grand Rapids Press
was in the middle of a hiring freeze, but this didn't stop Bird from executing a great deal of freelance work for them. This relationship with The Grand Rapids Press
led to introductions to establishments like The New York Times
and Washington Post
. Most of those relationships were built by shooting small, local assignments that then captured the attention of larger market clients. As Bird says, 'there are no small assignments,' because you never know where a good photo might go. He has been steadily building up his client base since his move back. The work calendar on his wall seems to provide him with very little spare time.
To date, Adam Bird has worked with dozens of internationally recognized publications including Newsweek
, USA Today
, Women's Health
, Men's Journal
, The Detroit Free Press
and The New York Times
, to name a broad sampling. He is an engaging raconteur and seems imbued with an ambition devoid of aloofness or arrogance; it is inspiring to see such a distinctive, consummate professional who has chosen a live/work space in the renovated Heartside district as his home. ...I look forward to seeing his summer wardrobe.
Emma Higgins has a BA hons in Fine Art. She is from England, but is an honorary Michigander for the time being. You can reach her at [email protected]