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Adrain Chesser


Adrain Chesser is a self taught photographer who refined his craft and practice through a personal mentor/protege relationship with the photographer Rosalind Solomon, and later with the photographer Debbie Fleming Caffery. His first critical success came with the body of work “I have something to tell you” a personal exploration of what it meant to disclose life altering news. In 2004 he was granted a year long residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. His projects have been exhibited both nationally and internationally and in 2014 he presented at the TEDx convention in Vienna. His first book “The Return” was published in 2014 by Daylight Books and Minor Matters Books will publish his second monograph “I Have Something to Tell You” in the fall of 2017. His work is part of the permanent collections of: Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Portland Museum of Art, and The Norton Museum of Art among others. He currently lives on Vashon Island, WA.


on being an artist

I was born on May 19, 1965 in Okeechobee, Florida. I was groomed to be a Pentecostal preacher, studying the bible and taking piano and organ lessons. I spoke in tongues. I learned to cast out demons. I was gay. I left home at the first opportunity.

A friend gave me a camera and I fell in love with light and image.

Another friend gave me an enlarger and supplies for a dark room.

In a closet under a stairwell, I taught myself how to make a photograph.

I made cash for photographic supplies in many ways. I worked in restaurants as a dish washer, busboy, waiter. I wrestled alligators at a Seminole Indian reservation. I was a santa for charity. I have assisted gardeners, photographers, and drug-dealers. I hustled sex for money.

Photography has been my highest spiritual practice.

It is no coincidence that at a time when I was abandoning the god and the religious dogma I was raised with, I should discover photography as a means to interpret my life.

I have lied, cheated, and stolen so I could feel the erotic rush of watching an image magically appear on what was a blank piece of paper. I’m learning to cast “in” demons. I’ve always felt I would do almost anything to know the power of holding a split second in my hands, and look at it as long and as lovingly as I care to, to capture something as elusive as an emotion, and to feel the power of that emotion possess me each time I look at it. To feel the electric jolt of telling a lie convincingly and above all else, to experience the awe-inspiring, god-like power of creating and witnessing a truth.

I Have Something To Tell You

“ for beauty is nothing but the onset of terror we’re still just able to bear.” Rilke

I believe that one of photography’s greatest allies is memory, whether it is personal or collective, real or imagined. The illusion of the realism of photography has the potential to access emotions bound to memories, sometimes causing extreme physical reactions, at other times a nagging unease or the warm sensation of pleasure.

When I tested positive for HIV and was diagnosed with AIDS, I had an extreme physical reaction whenever I thought about having to tell my friends and family. Looking at this reaction more closely, I realized that it was the same reaction I had as a kid whenever I had to disclose something uncomfortable to my parents, fearing rejection or even abandonment if larger secrets were revealed.

It occurred to me that it might be possible to overcome this paralyzing fear by photographing my friends as I told them about my diagnosis. I invited each friend to come to my studio to have their picture taken, a simple head shot for a new project. They weren’t given any other information. For a backdrop I used the curtains from the living room of the house I grew up in. I put everyone through the same routine, creating a formal process that proved to be transformative. At the beginning of each shoot I would start by saying, “I have something to tell you”.

Each sitter’s reaction was unique depending upon their own experience of loss, illness and death, creating a portrait of unguarded, unsettling honesty. As a collective, the body of work speaks to the universal experience. The phrase “I have something to tell you” is often the preface for life-altering disclosures: pregnancies, deaths, love affairs, illnesses of all kinds, winning the lottery. The phrase becomes a kind of mile-marker in a life, delineating what came before from what comes after.

I printed the photographs on glossy paper for several different reasons. First because the surface is reflective, often creating a glare that distracts from seeing the actual image, not unlike what we do as humans creating facades to distract from what lies beneath. Also, the surface is extremely fragile. Scratches on the surface are like scars on a human body, speaking to the experiences of life that a photo has as an object.The skewed color palette while intensifying the emotional response, illuminates my experience of the side effects of anti viral drugs, which included hallucinations and abnormal dreams.

While these photos are probably the worst pictures ever taken of my friends, they are undoubtedly the most beautiful.



I am largely self-taught and refined my practice through a mentor/protege relationship with Rosalind Solomon and later Debbie Fleming Caffery.


Santa Fe Art Institute, April 10, 2004_April 10, 2005


"Notions of Home"

Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle WA, 2017

“TEDx Vienna” I Have Something To Tell You & The Return

Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria, 2014

“The Mythology of Florida”

Ogden Museum of Southern Art New Orleans, LA 2014

“The Stench of Rotting Flowers”

Charlotte Street Foundation, Kansas City, MO, 2014

“Up, Close and Personal”

Fuchs Project, NYC 2014

“Wayfinder : Forging Identity”
The University of the Arts Philadelpia, PA, 2013

True Love Art Gallery Seattle, WA, 2013

Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers

Blue Sky Gallery Portland, OR, 2013

“Beyond The Western Lands”
SOIL Gallery Seattle, WA, 2012

“I Have Something To Tell You”
Photo Center Northwest Seattle, WA, 2012

Western Washington University Bellingham, WA, 2012

“Author and Subject”
Photo Center Northwest Seattle, WA, 2012

“Mars vs Venus : Images of Male and Female”

Greg Kucera Gallery Seattle, WA, 2011

“Camp: Visiting Day”
The Center For Photography at Woodstock, Woodstock NY, 2011

“Stalking the Wild Asparagus”
The Print Center Philadelphia, PA, 2010

“Likeness: Portraiture from the Photography Collection”

Portland Art Museum Portland, OR, 2010

“Suggestions of A Life Being Lived”

SF Camerawork, San Francisco, CA, 2010

“Even When I’m With Him”
The Global Village International AIDS Conference, Vienna, Austria 2010

Viehmarktthermen, Trier, Germany, 2010

"Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants and The Tyranny of Memory"

Victoria Price Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM, 2007

"I Have Something To Tell You"
Houston Center for Photography, Houston, TX, 2005

"I Have Something To Tell You"
Santa Fe Art Institute, Santa Fe, NM, 2005

"I Have Something To Tell You"
Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, OR, 2004

"El Ojo Que Ves/Photographs of Mexico City"

Price Dewey Galleries, Santa Fe, NM, 2003

Houston Center for Photography, Houston, TX, 2006

"Reverse:Emerging Photographers and Their Mentors"

Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR, 2004

"Reverse:Emerging Photographers and Their Mentors"

Santa Fe Art Institute, Santa Fe NM, 2003

"out West"
Plan B Evolving Arts (CCA), Santa Fe, NM, 1999


The Museum Fine Arts, Houston
Norton Museum of Art
Portland Museum of Fine Art
Vincent Price Collection At East Los Angeles College