Since forming a partnership four years ago, Atlanta natives Ahmad Barber and Donte Maurice — known as AB+DM — have risen through the ranks of fashion and celebrity photography. In their work, the duo fuses the traditions of couture fashion with the future that haute couture is heading towards: socio-cultural inclusivity and freedom of artistic definition.
Recognized for their mastery of animating varying skin tones and accessible regularity to subjects, they filmed Zendaya and Viola Davis for In the styleCardi B for Billboardand Naomi Osaka for Vogue Hong Kongand shot Lady Gaga Gucci House cover for The Hollywood Reporter.
Recently, the two branched out into working on a fashion magazine themselves, serving as art and photography directors for black fashion show. The black-run print publication, which debuted in February and quickly sold out, is the latest venture from the website of the same name, founded by stylist and consultant Antoine Gregory in 2020 to showcase black fashion designers .
“Being part of creating something that meant so much to us was amazing. We hope [it] will benefit generations after us,” Maurice says of his work on the magazine and filming two of its three covers. “Everyone on the team wanted to help expand ideas of what’s possible for black creatives.”
Regarding how they pull off their shots, Barber shares, “One thing we learned early on is that it’s necessary to be professional on set, don’t forget to bring your real life as well. me. A lot of people appreciate how we have the ability to get the job done, but bring an ease to adjust.”
The Hollywood Reporter speak with AB+DM on their biggest milestones, filming Zendaya, and how their culture informed their photographic ambitions.
How was the journey of being black tastemakers, and how did that shape your worldview in fashion, art, and design?
Donte Maurice: We came into the world without a lot of knowledge except from our own research and experience in our hometown of Atlanta, so it felt like we were starting over. The best way to describe it would be cooking new meals in an old skillet. We were able to add our flavor to these new opportunities.
Ahmad Barber: I agree with Donte. To extend, I would also say that this trip made us understand even more the importance and the impact of our presence. It allowed us to sharpen our perspective and really film the way we want to film.
What particularly appealed to you about the art of photography and creative direction?
AB: I think for me it’s just about participating in the creation of a visual product. From finding inspiration to lighting schemes, clothing boards, angle preferences, tonality, image selection, retouching and arriving at that final product.
DM: What drew me to all of this was that it was a form of expression for me. I may not speak much, especially about issues, emotions, etc., but I can express those things through this art form and it’s always a release.
Tell me about your local origins and the inspiration that led you to form a duo.
AB: Our partnership and brotherhood comes from the community. Of course, we had two different aesthetics as solo photographers, but our mentality was always one of wanting to build this creative community.
DM: Ahmad said it perfectly! We inspire each other, so we can use that and propel forward. It sounds like a 1+1=2 scenario… We have found that we do so much better together than alone, it would feel different. It’s so amazing how two minds can merge into one. It tends to keep everything cooler.
During the pandemic, I’ve seen studio AB+DM take the lead in curating some of fashion’s most extraordinary covers with In the style regularly, The Hollywood Reporter, Gasoline and more. You realize the traditional and the future of fashion and execute these refreshing and original portraits. How was the pandemic and the management of changes on the production sets?
AB: To be honest, it was very unexpected. We just had to let go and let God. At some point we had to release the idea of what we expected or thought would happen and let what happened happen. Then, of course, when those opportunities came our way, we had to do our due diligence and take the lead.
DM: Totally agree. Every set during the pandemic and even now is very, very difficult. You really never know what can happen when it comes to tests, talents, etc. As Ahmad said. we really had to let go and let God. Dependent on the wisdom of God to help us through these waters, we have never sailed before. It helped us enormously!
I love the longstanding, trusted partnerships you’ve developed with iconic black talent, I see you’ll repeatedly shoot stars like Viola Davis, Cardi B, and I think your most frequent, Zendaya. To inspire you with this sentiment, how have you been able to find a community in such elite spaces of fashion?
DM: Yes! Being yourself is extremely important. The way we are with our friends and family is also what we bring to the set. Everything we do is a collaboration, so we open the floor for everyone to express themselves in their respective way and we make sure that everyone is heard and taken into account, because that is what we would like get back. Everyone was so great and welcomed us into their world. We were so grateful!
AB: Yeah, you’ll get a full deck and program while having a full dance party — socially distanced of course. Part of being professional and building relationships is also learning and being detailed with certain talent preferences and building a solid foundation to grow as shoots continue.
What stages of professional collaboration did you prefer in 2020 and 2021?
AB: 2020 would, of course, be our month of September In the style cover to start. We are eternally grateful to Law [Roach] to think of us. And also Laura Brown, Rina Stone, Lizzy Oppenheimer and Lucy Fox from In the style team for trusting us and really giving us a platform of this magnitude. In 2021, I think ending the year with Lady Gaga has been a truly mind-blowing experience. She’s someone you look up to and don’t think you’ll ever get to work with and the experience of working with her was truly an experience we’ll never forget. We thank our Hollywood journalist family, Ash Barhamand and Kayla Landrum, for this opportunity.
You are both the art and photography directors of the first magazine of its kind, run by black people, highlighting black designers and their influence in fashion. How was established black fashion showis the first printing number?
AB: We owe the start and the vision to Antoine Gregory. We first worked with Antoine in 2020 to launch the platform with a story that we shot in Atlanta with stone moss. The relationship of course continued from there. When he told us about this project in 2021, we were immediately disappointed. I think we knew we had something to say, there were things we wanted to see for ourselves, there were creatives we wanted to collaborate with and showcase. It was just humbling to have this opportunity to BFFs and Warby Parker, an opportunity to create freely, an opportunity to empower our peers, an opportunity to leave lasting images for the archives of generations to come.
DM: We fell completely in love with fashion and as that love grew, our knowledge of designers, glam artists, etc. increased. Almost everyone’s goal in life is to make a difference and this was no different. Everyone on the BFFs The team wanted to help shift perspective, create a chart, and help expand ideas of what’s possible for black creatives. To be part of creating something that meant so much to us was amazing because we hope it’s something that will benefit generations after us.
What are some of your favorite black designers that you have chosen to highlight in black fashion show?
Both: That’s such a tough question! To be honest, we can really say, everyone. I think we could work with the Sergio Hudson collection and also have him on set to see what was happening was really cool. We also had the chance to photograph it for the story. This moment was very special for us. Plus, photographing the historic Pyer Moss Couture collection was amazing as well.
What inspires you to continue pushing for greater exposure of black stylized narratives in all forms of media, from advertisements to editorials?
AB: I think the biggest motivation is to create reference images by our culture for our culture. We want to make sure that future generations can see themselves on these platforms and know that black luxury, black glamour, black couture, black fashion are and were alive and well.
DM: Right! And that there are so many different stories to tell. There isn’t just one style or one way, because there are so many different perspectives and points of view that all black creatives work on and refer to.
Outside of the commercial framework of the fashion industry, what does haute couture look like to you two in the future?
AB: I think haute couture seems gratuitous. I think we’re seeing a lot of blurry lines right now between the highs and the lows, the street versus the seam, and I think that will continue to create a path where people aren’t looking to force things into those boxes anymore like they used to in the old days.
DM: Haute couture sounds like everything you’re feeling right now! When people allow it, then it will.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.