The story of Topher Adam and why he became a Haunted Mansion fan artist
A long, long time ago, way back before I can remember, I was a photographer. Picking up a camera at the age of 11 years old. Mind you, it wasn't my camera, it belonged to my mother. Minolta 35 mm, film camera. I insisted on going to the store to buy film, I didn't know a thing about it, but I was determined, I was ready, I felt I saw the world differently than others. Black and white, 12 exposures, 400-speed film was my purchase. Back then they were still packed in boxes, in a black plastic cylinder with a grey cap on it. 'POP' as the container released the roll within.
Cameras back then were manual loading cameras with film, if you can believe it. Placed the film down with the roll on the left, and then you feed the feed of the film into a notch where the film can be drug forward as you snap a shot and rotate the film to advance to the next frame. Now, the task, how do I become a photographer?
I made sure I was selective, I made sure that if I was going to photograph anything, it needed to be different, unique, not something I felt I have seen before, or the world mind you. My very first shot was as I was walking down the stairs of our tri-level house, you go down the stairs to a landing where the front door was, then down another flight of stairs to the lower floor. Midway on the landing, I stopped and looked around seeing if something would catch my eye. I panned around slowly, looking left to right, and a glimmer of light passed my eye as the peephole was shining a beacon of light my way as if to point at me and say, Pssst, right here. I placed my lens over the peephole, and what appeared to me was a miniature world, black space all around the frame leaving this round circle of light and an abstract bulge of the world outside as if it was a distant planet I had discovered through a telescope. [snap, click, creek] I did it, I captured my first masterpiece. The remaining 11 shots left now had to be as good or even better than that. I continued my search for randomness, out of place, uniquely my point of view, stealing eggs from the carton in the refrigerator, to building sand mazes in the dirt, to photographing minerals on a magnet through the sand at the playground, water tunnels, and a few other silly uniquely me shots, and I was done.
Film wasn't as simple as an upload into your computer then, you had to take it to the film and photo-shop (see the collation with the word, Photoshop, and the store photo-shop.) where the film was sent off to be developed and printed into 4x6 sheets of luster black and whites with my developed negatives. Anxiously I pulled out my photos, and the first image I saw was my globe through the door photo. I was absolutely blown away that it turned out. My photo was awesome, I did it, I felt like I became a photographer, I could do this, I can create things that are different and unique. My life at that moment confirmed that I was going to be a photographer one day and that my creativity must be the thing I become when I "grew up." I was going to be a famous artist, and I was born for this.
Fast forward, over the years I dabbled in photography, shooting things that still stood out to me and my world. Along the path of growing up, of course, photography found it's a place hidden in my back pocket while I pursued many other things, fashion, design, illustration, painting, video, music, and much more. You see, I am not like other artists, I was always the kind of person who tried to do everything or anything someone asked if I could do. I loved the challenge, I loved to see if I could mimic someone, or create something without knowing if I could or not. Part of the process is the joy of being creative, it's how we grow, it's how we become better and learn from our mistakes. These were the building blocks to my current level of creativity today. I know so many different things and have the ability to do so much, it's hurt me more than benefit me because people are afraid of my knowledge and skill level. Businesses are afraid to hire me because I am "Overqualified." Talent and skills should be an advantage and security to companies, it should mean that I am dedicated to mastering projects and tasks. that I complete things top notch and with precision and quality at the forefront of all that I do and accomplish. Yet, in this world it's seen as knowing too much, having too much skill, not being affordable, and to me, they are afraid I will know more than they do. Which is true. But, knowing too much isn't the problem, it's knowing that they are more than likely concerned they won't be able to afford me and that I won't be happy in the end is my only guess as I still continue to be the artist I want to be in my lifetime.
Something you will learn about me, I am not a quitter, I am a fighter, and I will continue fighting to be heard, seen, discovered, or whatever it is before I leave this planet and hope I leave a legacy behind. I am not the kind of artist who puts his tools down and says, "I give up." I am the kind of artist who says, well that wasn't it, let's move onto the next thing then. Can that hurt me you ask, of course, it could. Because we are taught in this lifetime to focus on one thing, do it well, and that's your craft. NO! I refuse to believe that. Each time I am told the reason I am not the artist I want to be is that I do too many things, I say, "no I don't, I do one thing, that's being creative." The one thing that I will never ever, ever want to lose and hope that no one will try and convince me otherwise.
Topher Adam equals creative, I am an unlimited resource for creating, I will never stop doing what feeds my soul, what drives me, what causes me to breathe and live in this world. I was born this way baby, and there is nothing holding me back from it.
Over my years and through my journey of being the creator I am, I decided to pick up the camera full time again and start shooting things that bring joy into my life. I started focusing on fantasy photos, storytelling imagery, photos that transported you somewhere; back in time, or the future, or to distant lands that never existed. Folklore, fairytales, and more and what better place is there to know about fairy tales than with Disney. I was on a mission, I wanted to start bringing characters to life through my own point of view, my own vision, and skill levels I had picked up along the way of costume making, photoshop, photo manipulation, and pure imagination.
As I was developing and planning shoots, each shoot had to become better, and better, and better. I had to outdo my last image, I had to step up my game and learn more, and try more things. Challenge me to create environments and realities that helped viewers feel like they were seeing the movies and stories come to life. I started shooting with my own styles, processes, and I developed a look that was unmistakably my own. They were darker, colorful, vibrant, and almost illustrated or painted like photos that were not really accepted much, but I started building my following and people started to see where I was going with my work.
I got to a point where I felt like I needed to build realities that didn't exist so my work was so unique, no one would have a clue how I was able to photograph in a location, or had a set built, or whatever to bring my stories to life. I started to build my environments in photoshop, or 3D and started creating so many backdrops for my photos I didn't realize that I was also building a library of backdrops for other people to photo their subjects in front of. It's funny how you can focus on your work but build assets that could benefit others along the way.
My love and fascination come from a very dark place in my life as many of us who enjoy the darker sensibilities of life. It doesn't mean anything negative or that we are into witchcraft or satanic rituals. It simply means we have walked life differently and lived in a darker place that allows us to feel more comfortable with it. That brings me to my love and addiction with the Haunted Mansion.
Way too many times I will be asked, "how do you get away with drawing Disney characters?" The simple answer is, I don't know how. But I do what I do under the guidance of one of my favorite inspirations in my lifetime, Walt Disney. The Disney I grew up with and know wasn't the Disney today ran by big corporate greed and corporate boards and staff only out for the bottom dollar. The Disney I grew up with inspired children and adults to dream, to believe, and to continue to allow the child within, be that dreamer that celebrates who and what they are in this lifetime. The Disney I know, and remember was innocence, joy, laughter, and fantasy. It's where I found my childhood, it's when I discovered that I could be a child. I grew up in a very abusive home, I had to grow up fast and not have a childhood, so Disney was the place that taught me that I could dream, I could believe, and I could be a child. Obviously in my own space because of the surroundings as a child were not always positive or helpful, or inspiring.
I create Disney inspired art because I want to be an Imagineer, I want to be that artist that brings joy to children's faces, to adults faces and to allow them to continue that belief that dreams do come true if you believe in them. My art transports people with humor, and memories and recalls what is good about Disney, what's fun about the Disney characters, and of course what's brilliant about the Haunted Mansion. It's been my goal as an illustrator, artist, photographer, costumer to put characters into the haunted mansion in one way or another. To show that humor is healing and that there is no reason a Disney character wouldn't visit the Haunted Mansion in some way or another. They are all part of the same ecosystem, so why not.
I spend countless hours developing a project, thinking about details, about engagement with the environment, the atmosphere, the lighting, the magic, and the wardrobe to ensure my models not only are the part, they become the character we all love and know dear to our hearts.
I believe that Walt Disney cared about bringing joy to people, I believe that Walt wanted us all to remember what it's like to be joyful and have that spark of the imagination of a child into our adult years. I believe what I am doing is continuing the legacy of what Walt Disney wanted to create for a world caught up in forgetting under the pressures of everyday life how to remember the joy that was brought to you by a little bit of pixie dust and magic. I don't think I am stealing, I believe I am simply expanding what was started but forgotten when Walt Disney passed away and the business of Disney took over. Don't get me wrong, they must do what they must in order to survive and keep their business running.
With my art, and my point of view, and my investment into detail and quality storytelling, I believe I was born to create these images. I was meant to be a Disney Storyteller but wasn't inspired enough or encouraged enough to understand or even know how to reach the right people at Disney to be apart of the Disney magic. Instead, I had to work hard, follow the rules, go to school to be what I believed I could be through my art and creativity. I got my degree in design and visualization and am an illustrator, graphic artist, and a brand developer. But I will never stop believing deep down, I am doing the work I was inspired to do through Walt Disney. You know that feeling you know you are doing the right thing because you are being guided to do it.
I believe I am doing the right thing, building lasting moments for fans of Disney and the Haunted Mansion through my mashup illustrations, and photography, to my unique patterns, and fabrics to my backdrops. My goal in my life is to simply bring the magic to you from my own point of view. The products and illustrations and art I create is not the property or the Walt Disney Company, nor have I had permission to create these characters as I am expressing and developing my own storylines of these characters through my own point of view. I am not breaking any laws, I am not stealing, I am not copying and reselling. I am taking the time to recreate the magic through my own hard work and perspective. I am selling my art, my art, through my store to help you remember what's good, and what is magical about moments we all hold dear to us through our own perceptions of the magic the Disney Company has created. I don't feel I am wrong and I am sad that I have been put on a blacklist by the Disney Company for creating art because I sell my own art. If I had known that I wasn't allowed to create art based on what I love and it would keep me from working for the company that has inspired me to be a child, if I had someone tell me when I was younger to not draw anything Disney related or sell it when I got older, I wouldn't have. I would have held off so I could do my best to get into the Disney company to show that I have that special "It" factor to create, and dream and manifest the Disney magic through my art, I would have waited, I would have, but now I will never live out my dream because I am creating art from my own storytelling mind and selling it to fans like you. I have been put on the blacklist and won't ever be picked up because I sell my art.
But there are moments such as this that leaves us where we are, facing that wall, facing that door slammed in our face. What do we do? Where do we go, what's next? I have never been the one to see my failure at the end. I have always seen my failure as the power to push forward and to keep making my dreams come true in my own personal lifetime. I can only hope that Disney will see and understand the benefits of my life's work, of my journey, of my struggles and abusive past, of what Disney did to help inspire me to be the artist I am today. I can only hope that they won't sue me for being good enough to bring the magic to life that's close enough to the real deal to feel threatened by my art. I can only hope that I will never get a letter demanding me to stop creating what I create. I have spent years doing this, years developing my talent and skills to do what I do and to have the abilities to recreate the magic through my own perspective and to build items and goods that help others celebrate the magic through my art. I do my very best to always add my own twist to each illustration, piece of art, photo, and anything else I do that is in my own world of Disney to ensure I am protected under the Parody "Fair Use" act. I never want to do the wrong thing, I am simply trying to do the right thing all the time while being true to my human nature of bringing joy to the world.
I will always believe in the magic, I will always wish upon a star, I will always believe in dreams coming true, and I will always have Disney guiding me through the rough times in my life. There is something that not only has inspired me to continue living fully and creating, it's helped me be a better person, and remain true to my life and remember that we all can struggle, but we all can also succeed if we continue to keep pushing or as Dory say's Keep Swimming. It just takes a little faith and pixie dust!
I will be posting my images for sale in my shop. Stay tuned for more to come and remember to keep believing!
*Learn more about me in the documentary "Foolish Mortals" by James H. Carter and Ryan Grulich http://foolishmortalsdoc.com/