Meet the Couple Whose Remarkable Still Lifes Are Getting Them Dozens of Magazine Covers

Inside the Voorhes' editorial and brand work

If you were at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, earlier this month and happened to drop in on National Geographic's Nerd Night, then you may have seen photographer Adam Voorhes and prop stylist and art director Robin Finlay. The Austin-based creative couple was invited to talk about their book, Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital, which they co-wrote with journalist Alex Hannaford. The book features a collection of rare brains photographed in the Voorhes' unique style, one that has developed and is now sought after by major magazines including Wired, Fortune, Details, O Magazine and GQ, and brands like Caesars casinos and AT&T. In fact, if you've read this month's issue of The Atlantic then you've seen their work. 

Adweek spoke with the couple behind what's now known as the Voorhes brand about their creative collaboration, their style and how they got started. 

 

Adweek: What is the Voorhes style and how has it evolved?

Adam Voorhes: We're definitely still life. That's our focus. Where we came from, I was a still life photographer, and Robin was an art director. And we started collaborating on projects together. She would come up with a lot of concepts that were still life concept-driven, still life images that focus on storytelling with objects in it, and we would collaborate on this stuff. And a lot of times she didn't have much of a budget, so she would work on styling and prop-making for this stuff.

As our professional relationship developed, we developed a romantic relationship and ended up getting married and this whole thing turned into us collaborating together and us starting to work together. Now we operate in a capacity where if we have a story that we're working on, or if someone has a need, even if the concept is pretty well figured out, we brainstorm and problem solve how to execute whatever it is. We do a lot of sketching. Robin prop-makes; I light.

A nice thing about having a relationship where you know so much about each other's process is that we can meet in the middle when it comes to retouching versus what's done in the camera. What Robin makes in reality, sometimes it's easier to make everything for real, and sometimes it's easier to cheat a little in Photoshop. It's this total collaboration of ideas, prop-making and photography.  

Robin Finlay: As far as our style, we talked early on about who are we and what is this look we're creating and what do we want to do. Stylistically, in the beginning, it was that we wanted to stay as close to classic as possible. We were shooting a lot of things on black, white, gray, neutrals, really involved light because Adam is a phenomenal master of light and how to manipulate it.

I feel like there was this turning point when we were trying to do some personal work, and I kind of started meddling in his personal work and was like, "You're doing these big, overly productive things, and we don't need that, and we can tell a story with one simple object and light. So that evolved into the more colorful style. So I'd actually say, when you asked what is our style, that we have two. We have one that feels more classic and is something that doesn't date itself, and it looks like it could be now, could be shot in the '40s, could be 10 years from now.

It's such a classic approach to still life photography, and that's something we never want to let go of. And then we have this more modern or very now style that's playing with the right colors and simple backgrounds and is about how can we tell a story with just an object and light without doing this super elaborate sets in various locations and stuff like that. I think that's it: We really like to strip down an image to its most basic how can you tell a story quickly and simply, and I feel like that's a measure that we hold up to our images when it's working. Does it really need that extra flourish, and if it's not there, can we tell the story without it?